2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Hottest toys

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The holidays are a time filled with warmth, good cheer and blah, blah, blah. Let’s get down to the serious portion of the show - gifts for those good little girls and boys. No, not socks, not that annoying light-up sweater vest or sacks of roasted chestnuts. Let’s talk toys.

* Elmo is back on top with the adorable Sesame Street Elmo Live (ages 18 months and older, $60) with facial features and head movements that look just like the real Muppet’s. He is nothing short of adorable and heartwarming when he says, “Elmo just wanted to say Elmo loves you, kiss, kiss” and blows kisses. He also tells stories and jokes, sings songs, sneezes and more. This is the year to buy Elmo.

* Give toddlers some real working wheels with the Chicco Ducati Monster (ages 18 months and older, $84.99). This foot-powered motorcycle features two-position training wheels that can be adjusted or removed as the child’s age and skill increase, giving little ones a sense of freewheeling adventure. Rounded smooth-plastic construction is sturdy and less likely to damage tender skin in the case of a tumble. Adding to your little biker’s fun are accelerator sounds and a working horn.

* Playskool Inc.’s Dream Town (ages 3 and older, $69.99 to $89.99) sparks imaginations through play with brightly printed fabric playhouses and accessories. More than 4 feet tall, the playhouses are printed inside and out and work with accessory kits that help a little girl’s world grow.

At the center of Dream Town is the Rose Petal Cottage (ages 3 and older, $89.99). This friendly cottage, with its bright pink chimney, eyelet trim and realistic rose trellis, provides the background for pretend play. Accessory kits for the cottage include the Cottage Nursery set (changing table and crib, $39.99), which combines with the Cottage Cuddles Nursery set (crib, mobile, blanket and doll, $19.99).

The Dream Town Cherry Blossom Market (ages 3 and older, $69.99) is printed inside with a store motif, while flowers bloom and grass grows outside. Shoppers can order from the walk-up window while the “grocer” inside prepares fresh fruits and vegetables (Market Produce Stand, $11.99) or makes ice-cream creations with the Scoop n’ Smile Ice Cream Set ($17.99).

Dream Town playhouses nest together and serve as storage space for Dream Town furniture, appliances and accessory sets.

* FurReal Friends Biscuit My Lovin’ Pup (ages 5 and older, $149.99) is a life-size golden retriever puppy that has a soft, fluffy coat and advanced animatronics that bring it to life. Give it a cuddle or hug, and Biscuit will respond with a head shake, a playful bark or a panting tongue. This puppy also follows voice commands, including “sit,” “stay” and “shake.” Biscuit comes with a collar, brush and doggie treat.

* Mattel Inc.’s D-Rex (ages 8 and older, $149.99) brings prehistoric history to life with an adorable, fully animated baby dinosaur. This toy combines robotics with high engineering and voice recognition along with some soft, scaly reptilian skin. D-Rex’s response is incredibly lifelike as he walks, chomps and roars just like a real creature. You have to care for D-Rex, feeding him and playing games to keep him happy - and who wants an unhappy dinosaur around the house?

* Reinforcing lessons learned at home, the Caring Corners Mrs. Goodbee Interactive Dollhouse by Learning Curve (ages 3 and older, $84.99) fosters sharing, caring and responsibility through more than 400 activities, songs, words and sounds. More than 2 feet tall, this dollhouse unfolds to expose two sides, each with six interactive rooms. The kitchen has an oven that opens and closes, and the toilet actually flushes.

The front of the house is an animated face with window “eyes” and a smiling mouth on the front door. When Mrs. Goodbee talks, her eyes open and close, and her smile lights up as she encourages the dolls to “brush your teeth right” when standing in front of the bathroom sink or she says “Puppy loves you” when placing the pooch in its pet bed.

The dollhouse comes with a puppy, little girl and baby-sister doll. Additional Caring Corners family packs of furniture sets, dolls, bedtime storybooks and more are available separately.

* Peter Pan’s sidekick, the top Tink has been given her due with a feature-length animated movie, dolls and accessories.

The Techno Source’s Disney Clickables Fairy Game (ages 7 and older, $19.99) combines a software download, a “members only” Web site, and a set of stand-alone toys that easily connect to a Vista/2000 PC. Beyond the technology, what your little fairy has is an interactive Pixie Hollow universe of games and rewards contained in a hand-held unit.

At the core of the play is the Clickables Fairy Charms Starter Set (ages 7 and older, $29.99). This set includes the magic jewelry box, a charm necklace and three special collectible charms, all featuring a Pixie Hollow fairy and all sprinkled with Clickables Technology Pixie Dust.

The back of each charm has a pattern of silver dots that matches the raised metal pegs on the jewelry box and the hand-held video-game player. Both the hand-held game and the jewelry box connect to the computer via an enclosed USB cord. As the charms are matched to the pegs, they unlock fairy gifts, including clothing, jewelry and decorative items for that charm’s matching online fairy.

* The Island of Sodor has gotten just a bit bigger with the Learning Curve Thomas and Friends Talking Railway Series. The Great Discovery Set (ages 3 and older, $149.95) features new engine-recognition technology.

Thomas has taken a high-tech turn with the Talking Railway Series, giving voice to Sir Topham Hatt and the engines. When engines drive past the Morgan’s Mine and Great Waterton Station buildings, Sir Topham Hatt greets them by name, giving them a compliment or a task to do. There are more than 130 phrases.

The Great Discovery Set contains two Talking Railway trains - Thomas and Stanley - 29 pieces of track, a bridge and walkway, conductor figure and tree. The pieces will combine with other Thomas wooden railway sets.

* Connect the VTech Kidi Art Studio (ages 4 to 7, $79.99) to a television and watch your children’s creativity grow. This art studio combines photography, clip art and your children’s drawn or painted pieces, displaying them on the television or PC screen.

This art table has an arm-mounted digital camera that can be positioned to photograph your child’s art creation or removed to take snapshots. Using the Kidi Art Studio editing tools, those pictures then can be transformed into a variety of projects - posters, cards, photo puzzles, stop-motion animation and more - leading to hours of creative play.

* Go into battle with Bakugan by Spin Master Ltd. (ages 6 and older, $11.99 and up) and become the supreme battle brawler. This highly collectible game is already the rage around the world and promises to be among the hard-to-find toys of the season.

Bakugan, which means “exploding ball,” are large marble-size balls that transform into fantasylike creatures when tossed onto magnetic cards. Two players, each with three Bakugan Brawlers of various strengths and skills, battle each other across the battle arena, hoping to land on a gate card, opening a Bakugan Brawler.

There are plenty of accessories, such as the Battle Arena ($29.99) and Launcher ($15.99), which will be on many children’s lists. A must-have for any Bakugan Brawler collection is the BakuRack ($19.99), a portable carrying and storage bin for all those marblelike creatures.

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