- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2010

Here’s a list of toy recommendations that should put a holiday-inspired sheen on the faces of the youngsters who are an integral part of your gift list.

Best toys for children

* This year, the classic holiday train set has been designed with the younger set in mind. The newest addition to Fisher-Price’s GeoTrax train sets is the remote-controlled Christmas in ToyTown ($130, age 3 and older). Christmas in ToyTown features light-up cars that easily line up on the track to take off through the town and forest, past the light-up skating pond and over the bridge, where it triggers one of four merry holiday songs.

The set includes 16 snap-lock pieces. The train’s coal furnace lights up, as do more than 20 twinkling street lamps, skating-pond lights and the station, heralding the train’s arrival. There are snap-on ribbons and bows to decorate the bridge railings, and even a cheerful, ho-ho-ho-ing Santa and his elf. The pair drive the locomotive as the train cars illuminate to show the shadows of the passengers as they travel through ToyTown past the toy soldiers and gingerbread men.

The train can be pushed manually along the track, or the small-hands-friendly remote can move it forward and back. GeoTrax train sets can be expanded with GeoTrax flat and elevation expansion packs ($18 each).

* When tucked into a corner of the room, it’s a mighty 4-foot-tall rocket ship, ready to burst forth to infinity and beyond. When it’s time to play, the Kids Play! Toy Story Rocket Ship Table and Chair Set ($79.99, age 3 and older) rocket-ship body becomes four toddler-size barrel chairs, and the base, rocket nose and fins create a sturdy play table for four. The table features an outer-space design, and “Toy Story” decals decorate this clever, space-saving set.

* Get those toddlers running and learning their letters and colors while working on their listening skills with Wild Planet’s Smart Step Games Flipper Frenzy ($24, age 3 and older). Players take turns grasping Sharky’s tail as he gives clues to find one of four friends: a clown fish, turtle, octopus or sea horse. Sharky might yell out “Octopus” or “Who is yellow?” or “Who has eight legs?” or “T is for turtle.” The player then scoops up the right piece and shakes it a bit to find out if he or she chose the right one.

Flipper Frenzy enforces listening, turn-taking and hand-eye coordination while creating lots of fun.

* The famous mouse is in the house and ready to dance the Mouska Mambo with Fisher-Price’s Disney Dance Star Mickey ($99.99, age 2 and older). This Mickey will have the kids on their feet and dancing along as he busts a move to songs including “Get Up Offa That Thing,” and “Shake Your Tail Now,” while giving techno and disco dance instructions to six songs. Dance Star Mickey also can moonwalk, proclaiming he’s “backing this tail up, uh huh!”

* Hide & Seek Junior ($34.99, age 2 and older) from R and R Games is a great game for the whole family, and toddlers will fall in love with this cuddly friend. Mom or dad, sister or brother hides the plush toy (available as an elephant, lion or monkey) and gives the magic seeker wand to the child. Push the button, and the monkey (or lion or elephant) eeks, roars or trumpets out. By following the animal’s call, the player finds the hidden friend. Even more fun, let your little one hide it on you and see if you can find the pet.

* Three-D is all the rage, and the Patch 3-D Floor Puzzle ($14.99, age 3 and older) is full of surprises that are revealed when the enclosed 3-D glasses are worn. Forty-six large, colorful pieces are snapped together to create a 2-by-3-foot puzzle in one of three themes: Singin’ Sea Creatures, Lightning Bugs or Midnight Safari.

After the puzzle is complete, little ones put on the 3-D glasses, and the image springs to life as they hunt out hidden letters and numbers.

* Up to four players build and create a new play experience every time in the Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts Game ($43.99, 322 pieces, age 8 and older).

Players enroll at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to search the castle in this traditional board game. And, just as in the real Harry Potter world, the staircases move, there are secret passageways to navigate and sliding rooms to cross through as players collect homework from classmates and make their way back to the common room to win.

An added bonus to this game are the five special collectible microfigures, including Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore and four Hogwarts student microfigures (one from each house).

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