By Donna Cornelius
The best Christmas presents often are unexpected treats, especially when it comes to a special toy under the tree.
Sometimes, though, it’s not just children who are surprised. Even toy store owners can be startled when an item they hope will earn respectable sales flies off the shelf.
Homewood Toy & Hobby owner Tricia McCain and manager Julie Marix said a revamped old favorite has turned out to be a hit. A new twist on the traditional stacking toy, Spin Again has rings that spiral down, and you can make the rings spin by rotating the toy up and down.
“It’s just a reboot of the old model, but it’s really popular,” said McCain.
The toy, also carried by Smith’s Variety Toy & Gift Shoppe in Crestline, is $29.99 and for ages 12 months to 3 years.
Jim Glazner, owner of Smith’s, remembered another surprising success story.
“We’ve sold from 2,500 to 3,000 Squishies, which are like stress balls shaped like animals, food, even mermaids,” he said. “That surprised me – but I’ve learned they’re popular not just here, but throughout the nation.”
All our experts agreed they won’t be surprised to see two wildly different toy themes be tops on many Christmas lists: unicorns and slime.
“Unicorns are huge,” said Steve Sudduth, toy department manager at Smith’s. “We have a bunch, from stuffed animals to finger puppets.”
Each of the three stores has a wide selection of these magical creatures. At Smith’s, the Flipemz Unicorn is a plush toy that gives you twice the fun. You flip the unicorn’s head around, its horn disappears, and voila! You’ve got a horse. It’s $19.99.
Another charmer, this one at Snoozy’s Kids, is Uni the Unicorn. Uni is a unicorn who believes little girls are real – although her unicorn friends don’t. There’s also a little girl in the story who thinks unicorns are real – although her human friends are nonbelievers. The book ($17.99) and the stuffed animal ($18.99) are an adorable combination for ages 3 and up.
Homewood Toy & Hobby has lots of craft kits, including the Hanging Around Unicorn. Kids can stuff a cloth unicorn head, fancy it up with markers and stickers, and mount it on a frame to hang on their bedroom walls. The kit is $24.99 for ages 7 to 8 and up.
On the opposite end of the cuteness scale is slime – and all three stores have plenty of the stuff, including 3 Pounds of Slime. For anybody who likes slime (and who doesn’t?), this non-watery material can be stretched to more than 50 feet – and it doesn’t leave a residue. As the label on the container says, it’s oddly satisfying. It’s $16.99.
The Slimeball Gobzooka at Homewood Toy & Hobby comes with two guns and two slime balls, neither of which will leave marks on the people or stuff it hits. You just pump, aim and shoot the balls, which will travel more than 25 feet. It’s $29.99 and for ages 6 and up.
The Make Your Own Slime kit from We Cool lets you make slime glittery, in neon colors or in different textures. Who knew slime was so versatile? For ages 4 and up, it’s $19.99. It’s at Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
This holiday season, there’s a wide world of toys beyond unicorns and slime. Here are more ideas for the kids on your gift list.
Fun and Games
Whether you’re looking for toys that will keep kids from getting underfoot – er, to take outside for some exercise and fresh air – or to entertain them indoors on cold, rainy, no-school afternoons, each toy store has plenty of choices.
Laser X is a two-player laser tag game for daytime or nighttime play. It comes with two guns, which shoot up to 6 feet, and two vests. You can buy extra guns, vests and even a tower. $54.99. Ages 6 to teens. At all three stores.
The Sky Dreamcatcher multicolored rope swing can hold up to 500 pounds, so more than one child (and even mom and dad) can join in the fun. $129. For all ages. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids. Snoozy’s also has a smaller Deluxe Platform Swing for $99. George Jones said this one comes in darker colors, in case you want a swing that blends into the landscape.
The Retro Gaming Mat plugs right into your TV and has more than 140 games to play. Julie Marix said the animation looks like ’80s video games, and the mat resembles a Nintendo control. Use your feet to play all the games. $39.99. For all ages. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
Jim Glazer gives the Airzooka top ratings on the fun scale. The megaphone-shaped blaster can harmlessly “fire” a blast of air at people, or you can line up targets and try to knock them down. It comes in different colors, and there are no batteries. It’s non-breakable, too. $21.99. Ages 6 and up. At Smith’s Variety.
Put “grassy” sections together to make your own mini putt-putt course with Noochie Golf. The set comes with a putter and balls. $129.99. Ages 6 and up. Or try Golf Pool, a game that’s played on a green felt pad that looks like a pool table. Instead of a pool cue, you use a putter that’s included. $99.99. Ages 6 and up. Both are at Snoozy’s Kids.
Two players use launchers to shoot out and catch a foam ball with Sky Pong. It’s fun outdoors but also much safer for indoor play than regular pitch-and-catch games. $24.99. Ages 7 or 8 to adult. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
The Passback Football looks like it’s missing one-third of itself. The reason? Its flat end means you can throw it against a wall and have it come back to you, which means your budding Tom Brady or Julio Jones can practice both passing and catching skills. The balls come in rubber or leather and in different sizes for little and big hands. $14.99 to $34.99. At Smith’s Variety.
Kids can use their balancing skills on the Chalktivity pogo stick, a contraption that’s safer than a standard pogo stick. When you bounce on it, you leave paw prints behind. The No. 1 seller among these is – what else – the unicorn model. $14.99 to $19.99. Ages 3 to 4 and up. At Smith’s Variety.
Incred-a-Balls are really, really big inflatable balls (we’re not kidding here). You can actually “wear” them as you bounce around the yard, and some have room for two. $75 and up. Ages 6 and up. At Snoozy’s Kids.
Night Balls basketball and soccer balls light up on impact, making them fun for after-dark play in the backyard. $24.99. Ages 8 and up. At Smith’s Variety and Snoozy’s Kids.
Looking for a game for an older teen or college student? Who’s the Dude? is a hot new game that’s played like charades. You draw a card and have to get your teammates to guess the name of a TV show, movie, sport or location. The catch: When you act out the clues, you have to incorporate the inflatable “dude” that’s included. $24.99. Ages 16 through adults. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
Steve Sudduth said Blue Orange games “are always fun and very high quality.” Three of his favorites are Go Go Gelato, Dr. Eureka and Dr. Beaker. With these three games, players use matching skills and simple logic to win. $19.99. Ages 5 to adult. At Smith’s Variety.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Candy Land, but there are other board game options for very young players. Soggy Doggy is a brand-new game that features a cute little puppy in a plastic tub. Players roll the dice and follow the instructions on the square where they’ve landed. You might add two squirts of water – but look out, because the doggy might shake without warning. If you get soaked, it’s back to “start” for you. There’s no reading required. $28.99. Ages 4 and up. With the Wobbly Worm game, players try to toss rings around a friendly worm’s wriggling body. He gets taller and taller – up to 3 feet – as the game progresses. $28.99. Ages 3 and up. Both are at Snoozy’s Kids.
The award-winning Code Gamer allows kids to use code to make and then play their own video games. Don’t know what coding is? No worries, because your child likely does. If not, the game teaches coding, too. $169.99. Ages 10 and up. At Homewood Toy & Hobby.
The Right Touch
Julie Marix said tactile toys are big this year. Here are some ideas for hands-on fun from all three stores.
Billed as the “smartest dough to ever flow,” Mad Mattr is shapeable material that comes in neat colors like teal, purple and pink. The dough doesn’t dry out, so it should provide hours of fun. $12.99. Ages 3 and up. At all three stores.
The Boogie Board Magic Sketch has four different writing tools so you can doodle and draw on a screen. There are 18 different templates to trace – or you can just do freehand sketching. You can save your art, too. No batteries are required, and there’s no noise, so it’s great for kids to take on car trips or to restaurants. $34.99. Ages 4 and up. Another fun toy that doesn’t involve staring at an iPad is the Free Play Magna Tab. Use a stylus to raise tiny magnets and create designs. Don’t worry – the magnets won’t come out of the board. $24.99. Ages 3 to adult. Both are at Homewood Toy & Hobby.
The Design and Drill is not only fun, it’s a best-seller and award-winning toy. Use a battery-powered drill to follow color patterns and make designs. Sets come in boy and girl-friendly themes. $13 to $39. Ages 3 and up. Homewood Toy & Hobby.
With Fluffables craft sets, you can create your own fluffy little creatures in calico, orange, pink and other colors. $9.99 to $14.99. Ages 6 and up. At all three stores.
You also can get crafty with kits like Jewelry Jam, which includes a big box of all kinds of beads – plastic, glass and metal – so you can make your own bling. Or use the 3D String Art kit to create a colorful heart or other shape to display. Both are $24.99. Ages 7 to 8 and up. At Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Knead, stretch or bounce nontoxic Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, which comes in glow-in-the-dark, glitter and other varieties. $10.99 to $14.99. Some sets are for ages 3 and up; other sets are for ages 8 and up. At all three stores.
You might call Brackitz a modern take on Tinkertoys. Plastic pieces of different shapes and sizes stick together to make almost anything you choose. There are themed sets, too. $19.99, $24.99 and $29.99. Ages 3 or 4 to 8. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
George Jones said all the Lego sets at Snoozy’s Kids are new for 2017, except for a few classics. That’s especially nice for grandparents who aren’t sure what Legos their grandchildren already have. Popular themes this year are Star Wars, superheroes and “The Lego Ninjago Movie.” $3.99 and up. Also at Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Use Kinetic Rock sets, with materials made from natural rock, to “pave” a road; some sets come with vehicles and construction tools. $6.99 to $14.99. Ages 3 and up. At Snoozy’s Kids.
More building fun comes from Laser Pegs. These construction sets light up and come in different sizes – for example, one lets you make four different cars, while a deluxe model allows you to create up to 20 dinosaurs. $9.99 and up. Ages 8 to 14. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
Not playable but definitely touchable are soft, furry throws and blankets from Snoozy’s Kids. They come in pink, lime green, blue, multi-colors and patterned fabrics that “kind of melt in your hand,” George Jones said. Snoozy’s can monogram the blankets, too. $26 and up. Ages 3 to college students.
Snoozy’s also has reversible sequin purses, backpacks, pillows, journals and stockings. Sweep your hand over the sequins to create a totally new design. $4.99 and up. Ages 6 and up. Smith’s Variety also has reversible sequin pillows for $24.99.
Lots of kids – and, OK, adults, too – will ask Santa to bring remote control vehicles. All three toy stores can help you choose models for different ages and skill levels.
The Air Hogs Remote Control FPV high speed race car isn’t your typical remote control vehicle. You put on goggles, download an app and then maneuver the car without actually seeing it. You have a first-person view of where your car is going. $159. Ages 8 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
Steve Sudduth said he loved taking the XForce Motion Control Drone out for a test fly. “You hold the control, which is like a mouse, and the drone is motion-controlled by your hand movements,” he said. “It flies pretty high and for a good distance.” $34.99. Ages 8 and up. Smith’s Variety.
The Rustler Traxxas remote control vehicle is a good beginner car, Julie Marix said. “It’s made to take a little more wear and tear than some models,” she said. “We carry all the parts for it; the thought is that you can repair it yourself as a hobby.” $189.99. Ages 8 to teens (and maybe dads, too). Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Especially for Little Folks
It can be tough to find very good toys for very little people – but not at our three toy stores.
Cloth Baby Stella dolls come with a magnetized pacifier. You can buy the dolls in different skin tones, and there’s a boy doll, too. There are birthday sets, bath sets and a bedtime set with a doll scented with soothing lavender. Lots of accessories are available. $19 to $35. Ages 12 months to 2. Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Corolle Newborn dolls are little charmers that play eight melodies and have nightlights that switch off by themselves. $39.99. For babies and very little girls. At all three stores.
The Madame Alexander Sweet Baby Nursery collection debuted this fall and is especially for little girls. The dolls have the line’s trademark sweet faces and even smell sweet, too – they’re lavender-scented. You can get single babies or twins. $14 to $56.99. Ages 2 and up. At all three stores.
Sit and bounce on a friendly Farm Hopper pig, horse, cow, dog or rabbit. What’s not to love? $29.99. Ages 18 months and a little older. At all three stores.
Familiar stories like “The Ants Go Marching” and “Quick as a Cricket” go big with oversized books that are fun for young readers. $19.99. Ages 2 and up. At Snoozy’s Kids.
Neckerchews are dribble bibs that have chewy teething triangles on the ends. $22.99. For babies, of course. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
These small gifts are perfect for stocking-stuffing, for classmates or just for fun.
They’re not unicorns or slime, but Fingerlings may be pretty hot during this holiday season. They’re little monkeys that talk and move, and they fit on your finger, notebook, racquet or a straw. Steve Sudduth said they’re already on eBay for $50 each, and George Jones is advising Snoozy’s Kids customers to call or come by to get on a list for these. At Smith’s Variety, they’re $12.99 to $19.99. At Snoozy’s, they’re $20 to $25. But both stores also will have a special tie-dye Fingerling for $24.99 that’s available only to specialty toy stores. Ages 6 to teens.
Kids love anything for smartphones, Julie Marix said. One smart choice: PopSockets, extending phone props and phone grips that come in cool designs. $9.99. For anybody old enough to have a smartphone. At all three stores.
Shareable Earbuds are brand-new devices with two sets of earbuds to let kids share their favorite songs or podcasts with their BFFs. $24.99. Ages 6 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
Little girls love to collect Teeny Tys, stackable stuffed toys with big eyes. There’s a variety available, from unicorns and owls to Hello Kitty and other familiar characters. $3.99. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
Other collect-and-trade toys are Mini Boos, fuzzy little monkeys, seals, giraffes and other critters. The trick is that, except for one of the animals, you can’t see which one is inside the box. There are 12 different animals total – and one mystery creature. $3.99. Ages 4 and up. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
Drop the Zing Popper, which looks like a racquetball cut in half; it hits the ground and then flies up to 7 feet in the air. “This is our No. 1 stocking stuffer, and adults love it, too,” Jim Glazner said. $3 to $4.99. For every age. Smith’s Variety.
George Jones said two sisters invented Da Bomb, spheres that dissolve in your bath water to reveal a little prize inside. For the holidays, choose the Jingle Bomb, Santa Bomb or Snowball. Another bath bomb line, Feeling Smitten, doesn’t have surprises inside but comes in festive holiday designs. There’s a fancy Christmas cupcake and a set of three bath treats – a gingerbread man, peppermint drop and Christmas tree. $7.99 and up. For girls of all ages. Snoozy’s Kids.
Jones said a toy trend expert told him that today’s parents love anything from the 1990s – when they were kids. Thus, Rubik’s Cube puzzles, which now come in different shapes to present different challenges, are tops on many toy lists. $14.99 and up. Ages 8 and up. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
Paint water onto the pages of a Water Wow book, and color appears. The pictures then dry to black and white so you can do it all over again. Books feature fairies, animals, dinosaurs, Bible stories and much more. $4.99. Ages 3 and up. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
And the List Goes On …
We couldn’t fit every toy into a category, so here’s the best of the rest.
Zipes racetracks have a little vehicle that races through a see-through plastic tube. Flashing lights make the racing even more exciting. It’s an Oppenheim Best Toy Award winner. Smith’s Variety and Snoozy’s Kids have the basic set for $59.99, and Snoozy’s also has a dual set for $99.99. Ages 5 to 6 and up.
The Sing-along Pro is a karaoke microphone with a Bluetooth speaker that works with any karaoke app. $37.99. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids. There’s also a Bluetooth Karaoke Microphone that comes with a snazzy disco ball for $49.99. Almost all ages.
The Melissa and Doug Beauty Salon is a posh pink set that includes accessories such as hairbrushes, makeup and a hairdryer. Don’t worry, moms – everything’s pretend. $49.99. Ages 3 and up. At Homewood Toy & Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
For Disney and puzzle fanatics, it doesn’t get any more magical than the 40,000-piece Memorable Disney Moments puzzle. The set is divided into 10 4,000-piece puzzles depicting Disney’s most popular movie scenes, including Cinderella getting all gowned up and Peter Pan flying over London with the Darling children. Each scene is bagged up separately, but they all fit together into one giant puzzle. “If you’re planning a big Disney family vacation during the holidays, give each family one of the individual puzzles,” Julie Marix suggested. $399. For older children and adults. Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Grooming your child to win “Chopped Junior?” The Snacks and Sweet Cart can inspire future chefs and food truck owners. Kids can set up a sweet shop with this cart – or reverse the banner and sign to serve snacks such as hot dogs and pretzels, instead. The set has lots of pretend foods and soft drinks. The cart is ideal for front yard lemonade stands, too. $199. Ages 3 and up. Homewood Toy & Hobby.
The Giving Manger set comes with a baby Jesus figure, wooden manger, book and a bundle of straw. Every time your child says, “Thank you,” brushes his teeth or does something nice, he or she gets a piece of straw. The goal is to have the manger filled before Christmas. (If you have an especially thoughtful kid, you can supplement the straw in the set with pine straw from your yard.) $34.99. Ages 4 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
Pony Cycle horses and unicorns are toys that have real star power under the Christmas tree. The ride-on, push-and-go animals come in two sizes: The smaller model is $249.99, and the larger one is $279. Ages 3 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
Other wow-worthy gifts are Mercedes, Maserati and truck ride-in vehicles. These cool rides have a high safety factor, too, because each has a remote control so that adults can steer it. A Bluetooth attachment lets the young “drivers” tool along to their favorite tunes. $229 to $349. About age 3. Snoozy’s Kids.
The Rock and Roll It roll-up electronic piano was available last year in black and white. This year, there’s a color model, too. You can play a tune – and then record it. $59.99. Ages 6 and up. At Smith’s Variety and Snoozy’s Kids.
With Fantasy Forts, kids can build forts and castles from laminated cardboard pieces that look like wood or stone. They’re much more fun than the old card table-covered-with-a-sheet thing. $50. Ages 4 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
Sweep the remote control Magic Light Wand to light up or turn off your Christmas tree like – you guessed it – magic. After the holidays, you can use it with standard lights and lamps. $29.99. For all ages. Homewood Toy & Hobby and Smith’s Variety.
Adorable little hedgehogs and kitties do cool things like wiggle when you touch their noses and other tricks. Spinmaster makes the Zoomer Hedgiez and Meowzies. Their eyes light up – like your little girl’s probably will if she gets one of these for Christmas. $59. Ages 4 and up. Snoozy’s Kids.
George Jones has some gentle advice for moms who say their daughters already have too many stuffed animals. “I always say that there’s only a short amount of time when little girls love stuffed animals – so don’t squelch it,” he said. Steiff bears used to be pretty costly, but the company now makes much more affordable stuffed animals – not just bears but lambs, elephants, puppies and more. Jellycat has a Christmas line that includes an irresistible reindeer. Look for cute creatures like sloths and hedgehogs, too. Stuffed animal-and-book combos like Pete the Cat are kid-pleasers. $30 and up. For almost all ages. Snoozy’s Kids has both lines, and Homewood Toy & Hobby carries Steiff.
Although this list is a long one, that’s not all, folks. Stop in at a locally owned toy store to see even more fun stuff and to get advice from the friendly toy experts there.
“Big box stores have things that kids see on TV – and three days after they get them, they never touch them again,” Jim Glazner said. “We interact with our customers and see what kids really like to play with. We develop a gut instinct that people who choose toys for larger stores don’t have.”
Our toy gurus share another quality: They’ve never lost their sense of fun. We asked each one which toy they’d choose from their own stores if they were kids again.
“I think I’d love that race car with the camera – or the one in a tube,” said George Jones, referring to the Air Hogs Remote Control FPV race car and the Zipes racetrack.
Tricia McClain went for slime over unicorns; she said she’d opt for the Slimeball Gobzooka gun.
“I could really have done some damage with that,” she said.
Julie Marix chose the Laser X game.
“I can see myself as a kid, running through the neighbors’ yards with it,” she said.
Jim Glazner said the Airzooka blaster “would definitely be one I’d want.”
“You could torment people from a distance, and they’d never know where the blast came from,” he said.
If it’s time to shop, here’s where to stop:
Homewood Toy & Hobby is at 2830 18th St. South, Homewood. For more information, call 879-3986, visit homewoodtoy-hobby.com, or follow the store on Facebook.
Smith’s Variety Toy and Gift Shoppe is at 45 Church St., Crestline. For more information, call 871-0841 or follow the store on Facebook.
Snoozy’s Kids is at 228 Country Club Park, Crestline. For more information, call 871-2662 or follow the store on Facebook.
All three stores offer free gift wrapping.