In a disposable society where today's most popular toy gathers dust tomorrow, are there any gifts that children will cherish until they have children of their own?
The answer is yes, though such finds may take a little digging. Some are items that can resist years of battering; others offer TC lifetime interest in a particular hobby or pastime. All of these gifts have the potential for making a lasting impression and, best of all, none of them requires batteries.
The Brio train set sold by Early Learning Centres, a British chain store that focuses on preschoolers.
The train set, made in Sweden, combines sturdy wooden trains, wooden tracks that piece together, buildings such as farms, hospitals and schools, traffic signs and other accessories. Children may begin with a starter set, then add buildings and track over the years to create their own miniature city.
The company offers a lifetime guarantee as well as a registry that acts like a bridal gift guide. Children can leave their Brio train requests at the store for adults who will be shopping for them.
"You can build it up into a whole city," says Susan Ranere, assistant manager of the Early Learning Centre at the Marley Station Mall. "It goes from being a toy when they're really young to being a collector's item when they're older."
A basic set costs anywhere from $30 to $150. Smaller pieces like stop signs can cost as little as $6 and larger pieces like a bridge or a building go for about $37.
The Illustrated Junior Library, sold at the Building Blocks bookshop on 69 Maryland Ave. in Annapolis.
The junior library is a collection of children's classics beautifully bound and meant to be collected. The books include "Heidi," "Little Women," "Black Beauty," "Jane Eyre" and "The Arabian Nights." They range in price, depending on the length of the book, but they average about $12.95.
Each book is colorfully illustrated and identically bound with gilt touches on the cover and binding.
Also at the bookshop, which focuses solely on children, are treasures that may develop a lifelong love for reading, even if the books themselves don't survive the years.
One favorite for the holidays is the "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg, published in 1985 by Houghton Mifflin, for $17.95.
"It's one of the all-time best-selling books for Christmas," says store manager Joan Coleman.
Also popular are the "Random House Book of Poetry," $15.95 in hardcover, and "The Story of Holly and Ivy" by Rumer Godden, published by Viking Penguin Inc., for $13.95.
Comic books sold at collector's stores across Maryland.
While comic books may not qualify as great literature, they often grow in value if they are kept in good condition. The comic book craze has hooked many a junior high student intent on buying, selling and collecting, as well as reading about the battle between the Predator and the Alien.
Stores around the state, including the Twilight Zone in Annapolis, buy and sell comics starting at $2.50. Within weeks, if the comic is elaborately illustrated or the story important (take the killing of Batman's sidekick Robin last year), it can balloon in value. Young collectors often buy multiple copies and sell some of them back for higher prices.
Years later, they can bring their original copies to comic book conventions and sell them for premium prices. Teen-agers and preteens at the Annapolis store say they watch for a good story line, exceptional illustrations, and a plot that combines two or more popular characters.
Vince's Wooden Toys of Owings Mills.
For the preschool set, many toys won't be worth saving beyond the short time they keep children's interest. But Vince's makes toys that day-care centers swear by. That's because they last.
For children ages 1 to 3, the company makes a riding airplane that has a 30-inch wing span and rubber wheels for $165. It also sells a rocking elephant for $175, a riding tractor for $95, and all sizes and shapes of trucks made of wood.
"The American public is tuned in to buying battery-operated toys," says owner Vince DiPaula. "These are toys you can take into a home and when they outgrow it, you can give it to your children."
Doll houses at Family Hobbies in Arbutus.
Doll houses are a world in which children's imaginations rule. When children become adults, those same houses can become showpieces for a hobby that gets more popular every year.
Dorothy Atkinson, owner of Family Hobbies in Arbutus, recommends starting with a doll house construction kit. There are die-cut kits whose pieces punch out like a puzzle and there are kits with heavier wood that is pre-cut. Prices start at $60 for a four-room house and range to several thousand for 14-room extravaganzas for collectors.
"You can paint them any color," Mrs. Atkinson says. "And you can add to these houses as time goes on."
Mrs. Atkinson said accessories include just about anything you might find in a real house -- including dishes, candlesticks, bathtubs and brooms. Walmer and Real Good Toys are two of the most popular brand names, she says.