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2012 Holiday Gift Guide: 25 Timeless Toys and Books for Kids of All Ages

Published on: November 27, 2012


Toy trainWhy is it so hard to find the right gift for your kids? You want something that triggers exploration and their imagination. You want something that’s fun. And more than anything, you want something that will engage them long after the holidays are over. We’ve mined sources far and wide, including toy stores, book experts and veteran parents, to bring you this list of timeless toys and books, a mix of new picks and golden oldies. We’ve divvied up the list roughly by age group, and included our mega-list of Seattle-area toy and book stores, too. (Psst, want to share your idea for a timeless toy? Email


Creep Crawl

For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Creep! Crawl! (by Kaaren Pixton, Workman Publishing, $5, ages 0–2). One in a series of books for babies called “In­destruct­ibles,” this book stands up to chewing, squishing, folding and spilled carrot purée — it’s washable and as nontoxic as can be. The pages won’t tear, and your baby will love the colorful illustrations of creepy, crawly bugs and slugs. It’s worth checking out the entire “Indestructibles” series. A great gift for friends who are expecting.




Walk-a-Long Puppy


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Walk-A-Long Puppy (Hape Toys, $25, ages 0–2). This sweet doggie is the perfect pet. He toddles along with your wee walker, pulled by his leash, and even sits on command.





For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Magna-Tiles (Valtech, $55, ages 3 and older). A truly timeless toy, Magna-Tiles offer not just hours of fun, but years. Younger kids learn colors and shapes, and develop motor and building skills; older kids become absorbed in architecture, problem solving, spatial relationships and geometry; one ParentMap editor tells how her son used Magna-Tiles to replicate Notre Dame.




Bruder vehicles


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Bruder vehicles (Bruder, $18 to more than $100, ages 18 months–5 years). The ultimate trucks for truck-crazed kiddos, Bruder’s realistic, durable vehicles, with their many moving parts, make popular gifts and are the envy of the playground. Little eyes will go wide at the sight of the backhoe loader, cement mixer, garbage truck, fire truck, forklift (we could go on and on). For littler ones, Bruder’s colorful Roadmax series offers simpler trucks and vehicles, which have fewer intricate parts.


Plasma Car


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

PlasmaCar (PlaSmart, $60, ages 2–5). Age 16 to get a license? Age 5 to pedal a bike? Who wants to wait so long? Even little ones want to drive something! The ingenious PlasmaCar harnesses kid power in a safe and fun vehicle. It takes just a few minutes for little drivers to learn to rock the steering wheel back and forth to propel the car forward, and it will entertain them for years.




Fishing Hole Size Sorter


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Fishing Hole Size Sorter (P’Kolino, $25, ages 0–2). Little hands learn to match colors and sort sizes with these swimming fishies. When placed through the correct hole, fish dive down and make a pleasing “plunk” at the bottom of their tank. Fish easily come out of the back of the tank to dive in again.



Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? (Random House, $14, ages 3 and older). Richard Scarry is nothing short of an endless font of clever educational books. This 1968 classic shows kids what kind of work people do in Busytown, from farming to banking to ditch digging and so much more.






Brio set


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

Brio Cargo Harbour Set (Schylling, $59, ages 4–7). Play with this set on its own or connect it to your household’s current railway system. Fans of all things transportation will love raising the drawbridge to let the container ship into the harbor, plus using the crane to unload the cargo to the train car. And back onto the ship. And …



Lego Ultimate Building Set


For wee ones: Ages 0–5

LEGO Ultimate Building Set (in pink or blue) (LEGO, $30, ages 4 and older). LEGO has expanded its color selections to appeal to girls. But no matter what colors your kid favors, this bucket of blocks — the next step after the DUPLO building set — takes classic, timeless LEGO back to its building roots. You won’t find Luke Skywalker, Jack Sparrow or any other movie characters here, just 400-plus bricks and specialty pieces to combine with your kid’s endless imagination.


Kickin' Putt


Younger years: Ages 5–10

Kickin’ Putt (BeginAgain, $30, ages 5 and older). Get your kids outside and moving with this game, which includes elements of soccer, golf, Frisbee and kickball. Toss the disc to set your goal and then kick the heavy soccer-like balls to score points. Fun for parties, families, picnics, players of different ages and even inside, with a bit of space and mom’s permission.




Tool kit


Younger years: Ages 5–10

Classic Toolbox Kit (Red Toolbox, $30, ages 8 and older). This kit offers a fun, doable woodworking project appropriate for beginners, plus valuable bonding time between parent and child. Your proud carpenter can use the handmade carry-all, complete with lift-out tray, to store tools, art supplies or a favorite collection.






Klutz Friendship Bracelet



Younger years: Ages 5–10

Klutz Friendship Bracelets (Scholastic, $17, ages 8 and older). This book and kit from the Klutz series gives great, easy-to-follow instructions to make friendship bracelets. Plus, it makes for a good rainy-day or travel project. Once they master the basics, kids will be churning out adornments for their wrists, ankles and those of their many friends.





Crazy Forts



Younger years: Ages 5–10

Crazy Forts! (Crazy Forts!, $50, ages 5 and older). Get your kids through indoor playtime this winter with this Tinkertoy-like set of balls and sticks that form the frames of an endless variety of forts. You supply the sheets or blankets to throw over the top. Great for different ages and genders of kids playing together. Tips: Be sure to read the instructions, and younger kids may not be able to connect the pieces by themselves.




Fistful of Penguins



Younger years: Ages 5–10

A Fistful of Penguins (Wattsalpoag Games, $18, ages 8 and older). From a local game company, this new dice game calls on players to take turns collecting animals for their zoos, then maximize profits from the various animals’ ability to earn you (the zookeeper) profits. Tip: Watch out for sneaky squirrels!










Shrinky Dinks



Younger years: Ages 5–10

Shrinky Dinks Deluxe (Faber-Castell, $25, ages 8–13). Parents who remember the 1970s (ahem) can chuckle knowing that Shrinky Dinks are alive and well. Kids will dive into this extensive kit, which includes supplies to make jewelry, greeting cards, hair clips, key chains and more. Get cooking.









Cursive Magnatab



Younger years: Ages 5–10

Cursive Magnatab (Kid O, $28, ages 6 and older). This toy helps teach the (almost) lost art of cursive handwriting. Young writers trace the cursive letters with the pen, which pulls magnetic balls to the undersurface of the tablet. Erase with the swipe of a finger and go again. Great for car or air travel.







Younger years: Ages 5–10

Quercetti Super Marble Run Vortis (Quercetti, $55, ages 8 and older). Moms and dads fondly remember their simple childhood marble runs, but let us now introduce you to the next generation of this timeless toy. With 224 pieces — including towers, track, funnels and spirals — this Italian set isn’t designed for wee ones, but rather kids (and grown­ups) who want to construct a marble track that is positively gigantesco and hugely fun.






Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

The Call of the Wild (Campfire Graphic Novels, $10, ages 13 and older). Reinter­preted as a graphic novel, Jack London’s classic is set to enthrall a new crop of readers. Adapted by Lloyd S. Wagner and expertly illustrated by Sachin Nagar, this book will entice young readers to literature, and at first they might not even notice.











Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Nanoblock Castle Neuschwanstein (Ohio Art, $20, ages 10 and older). Nanoblocks from Japan are building blocks similar to LEGO bricks, but tiny and just one layer thick — which means they’re better for older kids. Kits like this German castle are highly detailed, colorful and satisfying to put together, plus the results are incredibly cool. Bonus: Kits come with extra pieces, in case you lose some of the tiny blocks.







Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Marusenko Sphere (Marusenko, $24, ages 12 and older). This three-dimensional logic puzzle is the modern, round cousin of the Rubik’s Cube. Any puzzle fan who picks it up will not be able to put it down. Five levels of difficulty are available.





Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Eco-Battery Vehicles (Thames & Kosmos, $62, ages 10 and older). This kit lets kids build a host of different vehicle models and power them with an environmentally conscious fuel-cell type of battery, which contains no harmful chemicals and teaches kids about the vehicles of the future. With 91 building pieces and a 64-page idea manual, the fun will power on and on.





Dungeon Fighter



Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Dungeon Fighter (Fantasy Flight Games, $50, ages 13 and older). In this board game for one to six players, fantasy enthusiasts (and perhaps their Dungeons & Dragons-playing parents?) venture into dungeons and encounter monsters, magic and more. But don’t take it too seriously: Manual dexterity elements make this game funny and active.








Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Perplexus Epic (PlaSmart, $30, ages 12 and older). When your teen’s phone has run out of juice (and you’ve hidden the charger), hand them the Perplexus Epic. The player must twist and turn this handheld 3-D ball maze to negotiate a tiny marble through many barriers. Possibly as engrossing as texting.







Pinhole camera



Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Pinhole Camera Kit (Noted, $25, ages 13 and older). For your teenage lover of retro, this kit is a twofer. First, they get to carefully construct a working pinhole camera from little more than thick black paper and tape (wow!). Second, they can start taking pictures with good old-fashioned 35mm film. So old school.








Growing up: Ages 10 + Older

Woolpets Kit (Woolpets, $17, ages 12 and older). For the crafty one in your crew, this kit comes with everything needed to try their hand at sculptural wool felting, which is kind of like poking a hairball with a very sharp needle, but not gross at all and with truly adorable results. Trust us.






spinning top... And, Our MegaList of Seattle-Area Toy Stores:


KidsQuest Children’s Museum Store
Lakeshore Learning Materials
Merry Go Round
Once Upon a Time on Queen Anne
The Toy Place at Bellevue Art & Frame
Uncle’s Games
Wee Tots
Simplicity ABC
White Horse Toys
Mercer Island:
Island Books
Learning Quest Toys
Tree Top Toys


Card Kingdom
Dakota Art Stores (also in Bellingham and Mt. Vernon)
Secret Garden Books
Capitol Hill:
Columbia City:
Retroactive Kids
Top Ten Toys
Green Lake:
Mockingbird Books
Top Ten Toys
Maple Leaf:
Math ’n’ Stuff
Queen Anne:
Blue Highway Games
Once Upon a Time on Queen Anne
South Lake Union:
Alphabet Soup Children’s Books
West Seattle:
Curious Kidstuff


Toys That Teach
Teri’s Toybox
Snapdoodle Toys


Bainbridge Island:
Calico Cat Toy Shoppe
Wind Up Here
Creative Mom Toys
Learning Sprout Toys
Teaching Toys and Books

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