Posted by: Michelle Mitton | June 19, 2008

Terrific Birthday Toys

The Only Hearts Club DollsLast week I mentioned Lillian’s birthday and my crush on Over the Rainbow Toys here in Anchorage–it really was a fun place for birthday ideas, and even though I only walked away with a few things (they can be rather pricey) there were so many others I put on the list for future reference.

I know it’s not holiday-gift buying time but if you’re like me you can always use some good ideas for birthdays so here’s what I bought as well as a few I’m noting for later, all of them were at Over the Rainbow but unfortunately their website is really poor and hardly any of the toys they stock are actually on the site so I’m linking to other places that also carry them.

1. Lily Rose Doll from the Only Hearts Club collection. These soft, poseable dolls are more realistic and cute than Barbies and less trashy than those-dolls-that-shall-not-be-named (you know, the ones that start with a “B” and end with “rats”?) The only way those dolls could be any trashier is if they came wrapped in a Hefty bag. But check out Lily Rose’s sweet little freckles! Reasonably priced at $15, the extra outfits are a little pricey at $11 but they’re better quality than what you’d find with other dolls in the category. My biggest gripe would be that they tie those darn dolls into the packaging so well that you need a surgeon to get them out. ACK!

2. A Bug Collector Kit. For all those centipedes and tapeworms, right? I figured if Lillian had fun little microscopes and tweezers and magnifying jars to keep her bugs outside then I wouldn’t have to find them inside. Very popular–though a little more expensive at $34.95–we’ve got specimens on the back porch right now. I finally convinced her to keep them in a shady corner, the poor things were on the table in full sun and baking in their little clear plastic houses and she was wondering why her spiders were sleeping so long. I don’t like bugs but let’s treat them humanely–beetles are people too you know.

Princess Elise Magnetic Dress Up3. A Set of Magnetic Princess “Paper” Dolls. You’ve probably seen these before but they’re so cute and this set is very sturdy and comes with its own wooden tray. I’m not sure what Over the Rainbow is selling them for, Amazon has a double pack for $17.99, but these were a gift from someone else–someone else who is a fan of the store because I could tell from the lovely gift wrapping job!

4. The Amazing Animal Trivia Game. Spencer, David and Lillian have been playing this on and off since Saturday and my only complaint is that the game needs more questions. Two hundred questions and they’ve already been through them all so now they ask the questions but don’t give each other the benefit of the multiple choice selections, just to make it harder. Did you know that an elephant’s trunk has 40,000 muscles? Ve-ry popular item and a good price at $19.95

Zoomorphs5. Zoomorphs. This is seriously the coolest toy I’ve seen in a long time. You get a tube of animal parts that are all interchangeable so you can create your own horrific beasts. There are different themes: mythological creatures, prehistorics, insects, safari animals, etc. The tube I got was $25. Not exactly cheap but they’re fun for those with twisted minds and the kids have had a great time making up hideous creatures. We’re a regular Island of Dr. Moreau here I tell you.

There was a larger, chunkier version of the same idea for young children called Dragon Bonz which (for more money at $36.95) looked alright but not at fun as the Zoomorphs.

Penelope Peapod Dolls6. Penelope Peapod Dolls. These are just the cutest dolls you’ll ever see because they come with their own little purse-style carrying basket. I actually had a similar doll when I was little that my Grandmother had made for me from the bottom of a Clorox bottle where she cut off the bottom, punched holes around the rim and crocheted a cinch top on it. I had a tiny Eskimo doll named Muk Tuk that came from Woolworth’s which I carried around in there with a little pillow and blanket and mattress and loved it to pieces. Unfortunately the Penelope Peapod doll doesn’t come as inexpensively as Grandma’s well-loved version–they retail for $39.95 at Over the Rainbow but they did feel pretty sturdy.

Backyard Safari Turbo Bug Vacuum7. Backyard Safari Turbo Bug Vacuum Toy. The toy with the longest name in the history of the world but the concept is simple–it’s a Dustbuster for bugs. Kids can suck up bugs for collection and study without mushing them between their fingers in an Of Mice and Men type of moment. I can’t decide if this is the greatest idea or the dumbest–I’ve seen my kids play with this for hours collecting specimens (our little neighbor Cain has one and uses it all the time) but then it’s one of those things where kids have been successfully collecting and playing with bugs for centuries without the aid of the Bug Vac so why spend $26.95 for something they should be able to figure out themselves? You decide but I’ll tell you they have fun with it and that’s the whole point of a toy I suppose.

Alternately and in the same genre is the Big Bad Booming Bug 3D Bug Projector which looks pretty fun and is much cheaper at $12.99–you put a bug in and it crawls by the light source and casts monster shadows on your walls, kind of recreating the experience of watching a reel-to-reel movie where a bug crawls in front of the lens. Only problem is, it doesn’t get dark enough here when bugs are around to make this a viable thing in our house. Still it looks kind of fun for my little etymologists.

Zee Beez8. Zee Beez. Okay this was super fun and I stood there at the checkout counter having spent my budgeted amount on toys but playing with the display model and wanting one very badly. It’s just a hard rubber spinner top that you flip inside out then spin and drop at the same time. When it hits the ground spinning it flips right side out and the force shoots it up into the air. Simple and cheap ($4.99) and fun–I want one.

9. Maze Balancing Ball. Children can stand on this board and maneuver it to send a ball through a maze at their feet-tricky but it can also be held in the hands and worked that way as well. It looked fun but was expensive ($48.95) and I wondered how long it would hold interest. They had an older-kid version that was even more difficult and had some kind of an electronic game that went along with the set up and seemed more fun–and I think the older version would keep their attention longer. And then there’s the price–it’s on sale at Amazon for $34.95 which it the final proof that the Wobble Deck is probably more for my kids than the Balancing Ball.

In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck10. In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck. This is the only item I didn’t see at Over the Rainbow but it was sent to me as a review item and happened to come on Lillian’s birthday so it was almost like getting a birthday present! I get a few books to review and usually they’re fine and all but this one I really liked. Three reasons: First, the story is full of sensory words that bring it to life. Colors, sounds, smells, the imagery makes the story jump off the page. Second, the ending has a little twist that makes the book fun and rather magical. Third, there aren’t too many words. I know I sound like a cretin but don’t you get tired of bedtime books that are novels? I love reading to my children but when you have a picture book with too much book and not enough pictures I get bored and my kids get bored (can you get through a Bill Peet story without cheating and skipping words when they’re not looking? I can’t). Anyway, it makes for a great bedtime story book and the little girl in the pictures looks exactly like Lillian which made it even better–we just stuck her name in when we read it.

Fun Roller11. The Bungee Jumper. My kids like the physical toys–frisbees, baseballs, hula hoops, pogo sticks and this toy looked like a newer, more easily stored version of a pogo stick. $18.49 isn’t a bad price for it and I’d give it a try I think. But you want to know the best outdoor toy? The Best? The Fun Roller–a giant plastic hamster wheel for kids. Oh it looks fun alright though I’m guessing we don’t have enough insurance to even allow the kids to look at it. It has disaster written all over it–in a hugely fun way of course. Reminds me of a Jackie Chan movie I saw where he goes over a cliff in something similar called a Zorb which, not surprisingly, comes from New Zealand. Everything cool comes from New Zealand, it’s just that kind of place. Anyway, I can see my boys trying to reenact that scene with not-so-pleasing results.

Moose in the House12. Labyrinth. This is a game the kids got a while back but our version was just a card game where you lay down pieces of the labyrinth trying to match up the paths to collect the treasure. The kids liked it quite a bit and now they’ve got a full blow board game of it. I saw junior versions as well and they all look good if our experience can be any measure. But why oh why can’t I ever spell the word “labyrinth” correctly? I always have to sound it out syllable by syllable to get it out.

13. Moose in the House. Another game but this is a card game and was very popular here. Not with older kids but Lillian loved it because she could play along with the older kids and keep up and make trouble for her brothers by sticking moose in their houses. Another good card game is Loot which the boys particularly liked–pirate themes can’t ever be boring. Only thing is we got our Moose in the House game from Walmart and it cost half of what they’re asking at Over the Rainbow where it’s at $12. Go to Walmart for that one.

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