Toys for Tots, Teens And In-Betweens

November 26, 1995|By JoAnne C. Broadwater

Santa's elves have been busy this year and they've already stocked the shelves of Baltimore-area toy stores with a dizzying wonderland of gifts.

But even the most savvy holiday shopper might find the sheer numbers of dolls, action figures, board and video games, crafts, books, computerized toys, building sets, cars, trucks and more overwhelming. How can you pick just the right toys to make each child's holiday special?

So far this season, retailers say, no single toy has emerged to dominate the dreams of children the way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cabbage Patch dolls and Power Rangers did in the past.

But there are a number of toys that already are shaping up to be early favorites. Among the most popular items for girls are Sky Dancers -- delicate flying pixie dolls with names like Windy, Sunshine and Camille. Each comes equipped with a launcher, which could be a swan or a moon. When a string in the launcher is pulled, the doll's wings unfurl and she takes off into the sky.

The latest addition to Barbie's family also looks to be a hit. Baby Sister Kelly, who comes with her own crib or stroller, is already in great demand. Also expected to be big sellers over the holiday season are Dr. Barbie and Baywatch Barbie. If you're looking for a Barbie for someone who collects rather than just plays with Barbie, check out Circus Star, 35th Anniversary, Native American and Midnight Gala Barbies.

"Barbie is popular because she's always changing and updating and she has so many mixed interests," said Pauline O'Keeffe, national spokeswoman for Kaybee Toy Stores. "She's taken so many different career paths that she's a role model and the perfect companion on any little girl's adventure."

Among baby dolls, a couple stand out -- Babyborn, a doll that drinks, wets, cries, eats, soils and moves, and Baby Tumbles Surprise, a doll that (you guessed it) tumbles.

Action figures are a perennial favorite among boys. In particular, the collection of sports action figures by Starting Line-up, which includes Cal Ripken, is highly sought after. Spiderman figures are selling well, as are figures based on movie and TV characters such as Pocahontas, Batman, Casper and Power Rangers.

"Summer movies with big kid appeal are always a good predictor of what will be popular," said Jodi Levin, communications director of the Toy Manufacturers of America.

Lots of toys have a space theme because of the movie "Apollo 13," she said. Star Wars movable action figures continue to be hugely popular as in recent holiday seasons.

The number of video games and systems to choose from this year is greater than ever. The new Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn game systems are likely to be on many a wish list. Popular software this year includes: Mortal Kombat 3, Super Mario World 2 Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong Country 2. Also new is Virtual Boy, a portable game system with 3-D graphics. A few of these games, such as Mortal Kombat 3 and Virtual Boy, have created some controversy, so you might want to check them out at the store before purchasing.

In addition to heavily marketed toys, there are others that are not as well-known but have earned high marks from children, parents and toy professionals. Some go beyond just plain fun to educational.

"Parents are looking for toys that are going to have long-term value for kids in terms of their personal and educational development," said Tim Pyle, director of operations for Learning How, an educational toy store. "A lot of toys are popular because they require imagination."

Such is true of the red-haired Madeline doll, inspired by the precocious French girl in Ludwig Bemelmans' books. A simple soft doll, Madeline doesn't have any strings to pull or buttons to push. She depends on a child's imagination to make her move.

There's also Thomas the Tank Engine with all of his trains, books, tracks, arched stone bridges and Shining Time Station to inspire a child's fantasy.

"People love Thomas," Mr. Pyle said. "You're bringing your imagination and not just having everything so laid out for you like in a video game."

Parents and children can play together with Blockbusters, sets of large cardboard building blocks that look like bricks. The Playmobil pirate play sets, Victorian houses, castles, construction sites and western scenes also encourage thoughtful play.

Electronic games such as Geosafari and Geosafari Jr. offer learning fun in a variety of subjects, including geography, math and foreign languages.

Teens can keep journals, sports scores, addresses and important dates in the computerized Dear Diary, My Super Magic Diary and Message Sender Diary.

Eager readers will enjoy "Five Minute Mysteries," "More Five Minute Mysteries" and "Even More Five Minute Mysteries." And don't miss the unique books from Klutz Press, which teach a skill and provide all supplies needed, including "Draw the Marvel Comics SuperHeroes" and "The Incredible Clay Book."

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