A cozy setup for story time at Snapdoodle Toys & Games in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. In-store photos by Nancy Chaney
Many parents are guilty of reflexively flinging a particularly deflating knee-jerk cynicism in response to requests by their kids for certain toys they really want (but we sure as shoot don’t): “That’s too expensive, too loud, too junky, too messy, too big, too small (ouch — infernal Legos underfoot!) ... ” So many ready objections! Nowhere has this miserly anti-toy sentiment been more perfectly immortalized than in the endearing holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” when Ralphie’s mother responds to his covetous plea for a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with this dismissive, dream-quashing assessment: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
But the truth is that we can all probably recall a toy we likewise desperately coveted during our childhood, one that made us sleepless, fretful, hopeful — maybe even maladroitly scheming — in the lead-up to the holidays.
Luckily for the Ralphies of the world today, there are magical adults in our midst who understand what kids want and advocate for their toy wishes, every day of the year, not just during the holiday season. Stephanie “Steph” Luckerath is the assistant manager of the independent Snapdoodle Toys & Games store location in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. This beloved toy mecca has drawn loyal families from the area for more than 30 years, long operating as Top Ten Toys before being acquired in 2018 by the toy-whispering Pickering family, which operates five other Snapdoodle stores, in Kenmore, Redmond, Issaquah, Totem Lake and Bellevue.
Luckerath is a veteran toy seller in her own right, having logged almost three decades’ worth of experience working in Seattle-area toy stores. “I love independent toy stores. This is what I know. You breathe in, you breathe out, you sell toys — that’s what I do,” she says with a shrug.
Quite possibly the least grinchy person one could ever encounter, this ambassador of fun recently shared her exuberance for, and breathtaking knowledge of, the best toys and games of 2022 with me. Here are 15 of her favorite picks for your holiday gift-giving list consideration.
Wanderlust Wood + Felt City Blocks Play Set: Seattle (ages 3+) “We just got this in last week, and I’m all excited about it! It’s a play set of Seattle-themed felt and wood blocks — there’s the Space Needle, Pike Place Market and the Seattle Great Wheel.”
Flybar My First Jump & Squeak Pogo Hopper (ages 3+) “These are really fun. Not pogo sticks, they are pogo ‘hoppers’ — much more balanced than pogo sticks.”
Magna-Tiles: Dino World XL (ages 3–99) “You can’t ever go wrong with Magna-Tiles! We have the new 50-piece Dino World set in stock right now.”
Heads Talk Tails Walk: A Game of Silly Sounds and Movement (ages 3+) “This is one of my favorites. It is a matching game where you have to pair face-up body cards with face-down head cards. But, say you’ve matched a chicken body with a cat head on top: Everybody has to get up and walk around the table like a chicken while meowing like a cat. I sell this to tons of grandparents of 3-year-olds. But I also sell it to UW students who come in and ask me, ‘Yeah, do you have any good drinking games?’”
Jabber Bot Smart Remote-Control Robot (ages 6+) “The Jabber Bot is this little RC robot. It makes a whistle noise and a spooky noise. It also makes a fart sound, because, well. ... Kids can also talk through the bot, as a walkie-talkie.”
Not It! The Camping Chaos Edition (ages 6+) “I played the original fairy-tale version of this game with reps [from The Good Game Company] in 2019. I recently found out that all of the artwork for the Camping Chaos version was done by a Seattle artist.”
SmartGames IQ Travel Puzzles (ages 6–adult) “These little travel logic puzzle games are the type of thing I will throw in my pocket before I go down to Portland on the train. Endlessly entertaining for kids and adults alike.”
Buildzi by Tenzi (ages 6–96) “This fast-stacking building-block game is our best-seller for good reason — it’s wonderful.”
Sleeping Queens 2: The Rescue! (ages 8+) “I’m really excited about Gamewright’s Sleeping Queens 2 — this time, the queens have to go save the kings! [The company’s] Rat-a-Tat-Cat card game has also been one of my favorites for 25 years.”
Tsuro: The Game of the Path (ages 8–adult) “This game was created in Portland. I’ve only played it once and I lost within two minutes. I don’t mind losing, but honestly. I live with my elderly mother — and she cheats. So, we don’t play games at my house.”
Studiostone Creative Soapstone Jewelry (ages 9–99) “Studiostone’s soapstone kits aren’t just jewelry. There’s also a bear, a sea turtle, a wolf. ... You get a very raw lump, looking vaguely like what it’s supposed to be — then you have to work on it [with water and sandpaper] until it’s finished.”
National Geographic Amazing Worms Chemistry Kit (ages 10+) “We carry several of National Geographic’s excellent kits in our science section. Chemistry of worms? Yup.”
Force1 UFO 4000 3-Speed LED Stunt Drone (ages 14+) “This is one of my favorite drones ever! I play with it all of the time. It is super sturdy.”
Lego Ideas Tree House (ages 16+) “I’m one of our resident ‘Star Wars’ Lego fans, but what I’m best known for is being the resident ‘Harry Potter’ Lego geek. But, have to say, the tree house is simply amazing!”
You’ll find Stephanie Luckerath on the floor at the Snapdoodle Toys & Games Greenwood store noon–7 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday. She is also the store’s resident “story-time lady” — drop in most Wednesdays at 4 p.m. for a storytelling treat. Thank you, Steph!