- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The holidays are back - funny how that happens every year. For gift givers perplexed by the wide range of colorful items beckoning from store shelves and Web sites, here’s a sampling of possibilities that could put smiles on the faces of the youngsters on your gift list.

*Interactive technology brings Learning Curve’s smiling Caring Corners Daisy Greenway Interactive Camper, with flashing lights and sides that open into a play set,(ages 3 and older, $34.99) to life. Songs and statements feature environmental messages and cues to explore the outdoors.

Featuring more than 100 songs, words and sounds, Daisy Greenway is a mobile dollhouse that includes bunk beds, a kitchen, bathroom and a slide that can be connected to the bunk ends or cabin’s platform floor.

Surprises hidden inside include a doggie bed and feeding station and fold-down flat-screen TV. Expand the Daisy Greenway environment with doll packs (sold separately) offering dolls, pets and play items, such as a tree swing or bicycle.

*The 10-wheeled Star Wars Clone Turbo Tank Vehicle (ages 4 and older, $79.99) is covered with thick armor and plenty of weapons to defeat the Sith army of droids. A heavy-duty assault vehicle, the Turbo Tank will crush anything in its way while Clone Troopers take aim from rotating laser turrets and missile ports.

This mobile fortress holds up to 20 figures (sold separately) and features a weapon-storage rack and a removable rear bunker. This could be the coolest Star Wars vehicle ever.

*The Fisher-Price Imaginext Dragon World Fortress(ages 3 to 8, $44.99) is the ultimate in cool for fans of all things medieval. The nearly 2-foot-tall castle features plenty of interactive spots with lots of lights and sounds.

Wrapped around the castle is the dragon, which roars before it turns its head, bending down to snap up a knight who is trying to storm the castle gate. The castle comes with three figures that activate lights, movement and sound when they are placed on turntables throughout the castle.

*Encouraging active play through imaginative storytelling and character play, Sprig Toys’ eco-friendly Dino Adventure Rig(ages 3 and older, $29.99) with a truck, two smiling T-rex figures and a Rex Jungle action figure with a hat and backpack accessory will quickly become one of your tot’s favorite toys. The rig is made of Sprigwood, a composite of recycled plastic and reclaimed sawdust that’s lightweight and smooth to the touch. Surfaces are washable, paint-free and rounded, making them child-friendly.

The innovative cardboard packaging is 100 percent recyclable and features plenty of cutouts, such as a compass and campground space, to enhance playtime. Other adventure sets include the Dolphin Explorer Boat ($30), Glider Patrol ($9) and Scuba Search ($9), which comes with Willie Ocean outfitted in dive gear.

Also from Sprig is Princess Penny’s Story Building Palace(ages 3 and older, $29.99), a play set that combines the fun of paper dolls with the sturdiness of Sprig. Sprigwood connectors work with 62 sturdy paperboard cutouts to create walls, turrets and balconies.

A Sprigwood Princess Penny with a removable hat joins cardboard characters, a carriage and a full complement of knights.

*Brickbeard’s Bounty Pirate Ship from Lego (age 6 and older, $99.99) is a 592-piece set for swashbuckling adventures on the open seas. Fierce pirates armed with powerful cannons set sail toward adventure with the admiral’s kidnapped princess, while royal soldiers follow close behind.

Adding to the buildable high-seas action are firing cannons and minifigures of a mermaid, monkey, shark, two soldiers, four pirates and the admiral’s daughter.

*For the “Star Trek” fan in the house, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. has released the Spock and Captain Kirk officially licensed teddy bears (ages 3 and older, $99.95 each). These bears wear the traditional U.S.S. Enterprise Starfleet uniform, Spock in blue and Kirk in gold. The uniform boots have sturdy rubber soles and leatherlike uppers.

The bears’ fur is a soft, high-quality plush, and paws are suede-soft. Kirk sports golden honey fur, while Spock has lighter-colored buttercream fur. The bears’ arms and legs are jointed, making them posable. Spock’s ears have the familiar Vulcan points. The cuddly creatures are must-haves for any “Star Trek” collector.

*Little ones grow and learn when they have toys that encourage creativity and cause-and-effect understanding. The Fisher-Price Little Superstar Jammin’ Band Musical Microphone (ages 6 to 36 months, $44.99 to $69.99) keeps baby engaged with lots of gentle flashing lights, a bright smiling microphone and songs to laugh and sing along with.

As baby grows to toddler, the Little Superstar stand adjusts to enable baby to stand at his very own instrument panel, where he can play the piano keys, beat the drum, strum the guitar roller or pick up the tambourine or maraca.

Adding to the action - and the potential for moments to capture on video - a working microphone lights up, amplifying your tot’s voice as he sings along with six songs and four karaoke tunes.

*Edutainment leader LeapFrog has teamed with Disney to create the Zippity Learning System (ages 3 to 5, $69.99 to $79.99). Children follow familiar Playhouse Disney character dance moves as they explore phonics, counting, music and shapes while playing through eight dual-level adventures.

Each activity builds math, phonics, music, dance and reading skills through a high-energy dance-and-jump gaming system that encourages full-body learning and gross-motor-skill development. Game environments include the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, where children learn names and shapes with Mickey and Minnie; a visit with Handy Manny, who teaches memory and early spelling skills; and the Little Einsteins teaching music memory.

*Dora the Explorer grows up and heads online with Dora’s Explorer Girls Dora Links by Mattel (ages 5 and older, $49.99). A teenage Dora who interacts with a Dora Explorer Girls Web site via your computer, this doll is ready to solve mysteries with the help of your little girl.

Connect the doll to a computer with a USB cable and enter Dora’s online world at Dora Links. There, girls will help Dora and her four online friends solve mysteries while exploring more than 20 locations.

Players can change the online Dora’s hairstyle and makeup, jewelry and eye color, helping her to go undercover, and the real-life doll will mimic the changes. Girls gain a sense of community as they explore Dora’s town, apartment, shops, the beach and more. Dora also sends D-Mail, propelling play and curiosity about Dora’s online world.

*Hasbro’s G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra: Accelerator Suit Duke (ages 5 and older, $69.99) captures the intense action of the G.I. Joe movie in a fully articulated 16-inch action figure. Featuring the film’s erstwhile hero, Duke, in a Robocop-style suit, he is ready for battle using technology that allows the figure to recognize weapons and respond with coordinating actions and sounds.

A cool trigger action allows the figure to take off in running motion, keeping him on the heels of the Cobra minions. Duke’s helmet features a “stealth” visor for night operations, and he wields a light-up Gatling gun.

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