Some toys make kids go bonkers when they open them – and then gather dust once the “new” has worn off.s Three Over the Mountain stores make it their business to offer toys that will be fun for days to come. There’s probably not a child in the OTM area who can’t think of at least one gift that came from Homewood Toy and Hobby, Smith’s Variety Toy and Gift Shoppe, and Snoozy’s Kids.
The toy gurus at each of these stores have their own memories about favorite Christmas toys.
“One year, my aunt gave me a cardboard submarine,” said George Jones, owner of Snoozy’s Kids in Crestline Village. “I remember having the best time putting it together in the yard. It had places you could look out, flap doors, and was gray-blue like a real sub. I didn’t know things like that existed.
“My aunt – Patricia Bird, who lives in Calera – always gave the best gifts.”
Homewood Toy and Hobby owner Tricia McCain and staff members Julie Marix and Joanne Dickey had no trouble recalling stand-out presents. McCain said she still has the doll she got one year.
“I got the 14-inch Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland, and my sister got Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” she said. “I got in trouble for putting makeup on my doll and taking her to the pool. She still has cloudy eyes today – she looks like Zombie Alice.”
Marix said her favorite gift had her literally jumping up and down.
“It was my trampoline,” Marix said. “I was into gymnastics, so I was in hog heaven.”
A toy typically given to boys won Dickey’s heart, she said.
“I got my first Erector set when I was eight,” she said. “I thought it was cool that my mom chose to give me that. I had the best time figuring it out.”
Steve Sudduth, Smith’s Variety manager, didn’t have to think long to come up with the toy that tops his list.
“It was the Six Million Dollar Man doll,” he said “I had him about three days before his foot fell off, so he was not so bionic. I played with him anyway. I was a big fan of Lee Majors and the show.”
Sudduth has been busier than any North Pole elf this holiday season. Smith’s Variety just moved into its new store in Crestline Village.
So what’s new and cool in the toy department this year?
Jones said the DRFT is “the hottest new thing.”
“It’s like an electric Segway without the T-stand,” Jones said. “You control it by leaning. It comes in silver, black, gold, camo, red and white. It carries about 50 to 250 pounds.”
Supplies are limited; Jones said when his first DRFT order arrived several weeks ago, it sold out in about a day and a half. The vehicles are $499.99 and recommended for ages 9 and up.
All three stores have Light Stax. These light-up building blocks snap together to make shapes. An especially neat idea: Children can use them to create their own nightlights. $19.99, $39.99 and $99.99, ages 3 and up.
With the new James Bond movie coming up, it’s a good time to develop your spy skillset. “Think about those cool movies where the characters sneak into a museum and have to dodge the crisscrossed security laser lights,” Marix said. Chrono Bomb lets you have the same experience. You set up a “laser” field with strings and then challenge your friends to cross it and defuse the bomb before time runs out. At all three stores. $38.99, ages 7 and up.
It’s fun to mold Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, which doesn’t dry out and won’t harbor germs. Some of the putty is magnetic, and some changes colors. It comes in kits, too. Maybe Aaron isn’t so crazy after all. At all three stores. From $2.99 to $14.99, for all ages.
Thomas the Tank Engine isn’t a new kid on the block. But now he has a new playground: the Thomas Adventure Tower. It’s tall, not wide, so it doesn’t take up as much space as some play boards. There are no screws involved – and it folds up. At Snoozy’s Kids. $179.99, ages 3 and up.
Jambanz are slap-bands that use Bluetooth technology so you can play audio from iPads, iPhones and other devices if you’re playing outside, biking or jogging. They’re safer than headphones because you can hear what’s going on around you. They come in different colors, too. At all three stores. $29.99, ages 6 and up
Game for Anything
Bellz! is a new game for all ages. Players use a magnetic wand to pick up the bells in the color they’ve been assigned. The first to retrieve all of his or her colors wins. If you pick up the wrong color – let’s just say, try not to do that. At all three stores. $19.99, ages 3 and up.
In Bugs in the Kitchen, a pesky little insect scuttles around the board and you try to trap it, just like at home, assuming the bug-spray man hasn’t visited recently. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. $29.99, ages 5 and up.
Yeti in My Spaghetti is a creative innovation on the old pickup sticks game. Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. $19.99, ages 4 and up.
From the makers of the matching game Spot It!, Super Genius learning games teach math skills and spelling. Instead of matching pictures, you’ll see, for example, 4 + 5 on one card and have to match it to 9. (We probably didn’t need to tell you that. But if we did, you definitely need this game.) At Smith’s Variety. $12.99, ages 6 and up.
There’s a new junior version of the popular 5 Second Rule game, which asks players to name items in a category in – you guessed it, five seconds. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. The junior version is $19.99; the regular version is $24.99.
The Sporting Life
Future quarterbacks and wide receivers will love the Passback football. This funny-looking football has a flat end so you can throw it against a wall and then catch your own pass. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids. $24.99, ages 8 and up.
Slammo is a volleyball-style game that’s a blast for teens as well as for younger children. Players slam balls into a trampoline, and teams have to volley back and forth until someone can’t return the ball to the net. It folds up to take to the park, the beach or tailgate parties. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $49.99, ages 8 and up.
A mom and her sons in Charlotte, North Carolina, developed Two Bros Bows, a set that comes with a bow and two soft-tipped arrows. It comes in designs for both boys and girls. Extra arrows are available for purchase. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $28.99, ages 6 and up.
Mount the Slackers Flying Saucer Swing Seat on a swing set or sturdy tree branch. It has LED lights and is plastic, so it holds up well outside. At Snoozy’s Kids and Smith’s Variety. $34.99, ages 3 to 8-plus.
Kooba sets have two sticks that you use to sling off a disk that magnetizes to a target – if your aim is true. You can play it alone or with a buddy. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $70, ages 11 and up.
The Nebula Cruiser Quadricopter Aircraft isn’t a drone but flies and looks like one. It has LED lights and sophisticated controls. At Snoozy’s Kids. $129.99, ages 10 and up.
If you’re looking for a more laidback sports-themed gift, try Campus Legends figurines and stadium sets. You use snap-together blocks to make a miniature Julio Jones, Ben Tate and other former Alabama and Auburn stars now in the NFL. There also are stadium sets and, for Mountain Brook fans, Sparty from Michigan State University. At Smith’s Variety. $11.99 and up, ages 6 and up.
A Barbie-less Christmas? Unthinkable. The newest addition to the superstar doll’s entourage is the Barbie Saddle ’n Ride Horse. You turn on the horse, Barbie mounts it by herself, and the two ride off into the sunset (or the living room). Barbie wisely has a riding hat, too. At Snoozy’s Kids and Smith’s Variety. $59.99, ages 3 and up. Modern Barbie also comes dressed for success and not just for fashion – as a ballerina, veterinarian, eye doctor and scientist. At all three stores. $10.99 and up, ages 3 and up.
Pull-toy dogs have been around nearly as long as actual dogs. But the Crazy Rocky doggie-on-a-string is especially appealing. His tail wags, and he’s sporting a tartan blanket. At Snoozy’s Kids and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $34.99, ages 1 and up.
The Steep and Serve Tea Set from Melissa and Doug is so cute moms won’t mind if it’s left out on the coffee table. While many sets come in standard pink and purple, the pieces in this European-look set are white with red and blue trim. It has wooden teabags and biscuits, too. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $29.99, ages 3 and up.
Kids who love Legos are always excited to get the newest kits. This year, you’ll find new themes such as super heroes, fairy tale elves and – do we need to say it? – Star Wars. At Snoozy’s Kids and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $4.99 and up.
Who doesn’t like a good magic show on Christmas night? Marvin’s iMagic lets young David Copperfields use modern hocus-pocus. “We sell tons of magic sets,” Marix said. “This one uses a smart device, which almost every child has. You download an app for free and then can interact with it to learn cool tricks.” At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $39.99, ages 8 and up.
Most little girls love giving themselves and their friends the mani-pedi treatment. Kits from MoYou Nails have polish and a stamper to stamp on cool designs. The decorations are easy to remove, too. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $24.99 to $34.99, ages 6 and up.
For Little Folks…
SwingEase is a component for seat swings that holds younger children in place. It clips on to the swing’s chains and is easy to take to the tot lot as well as to use in your backyard. At Snoozy’s Kids. $29.99, ages 6-36 months.
Moms and dads with infants will appreciate this keepsake gift: footprint/handprint kits with distressed canvases and inkpads. At Snoozy’s Kids. $29.99.
SpinAgain is “one of our favorite toys,” Marix said. “It’s for little ones, but we’ve seen 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds playing with our display. It’s a new twist on a stacking toy.” Brightly colored wheels of different shapes spiral down the pole on their own. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $29.99, ages 1 year and up.
Play n’ Trace is a new trace board that lets you “write” with your fingernails or a stylus. You just sit it on top of what you want to trace. It has a handle so is great for travel. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $34.99, ages 3 and up.
…and Older Kids
Looking for something for tweens, teens and maybe their parents, too? Adult coloring books have intricate designs to color. You can get books with themes such as modern art, fab flowers, the works of artists such as Degas, and tessellation. Special crayons and markers are available, too. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. The books are $5.99 and up. Supplies are $8-$25.
Snuggle stylishly on cold winter nights with Trellis Throws. These pretty blankets are oversized and super-soft. At Snoozy’s Kids, where you can get in-store monogramming with a name or initials. $24.50.
Drones are high on big boys’ lists, and Homewood Toy and Hobby has many models to choose from, with features such as pro-grade cameras, autopilot and GPS. Some are designed for racing, others for chasing your buddies around. Top-of-the-line models meant for adults include the Chroma model at $1,049.99 and $1,149.99 and the DJI Phantom at $799.99 and $1,259.99. Other models are available, too.
Read All About It
Give young readers some local flavor for Christmas. St. Nick (no, not Coach Saban) visits the South in “Santa Is Coming to Birmingham” and “Santa Is Coming to Alabama.” At Snoozy’s Kids and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $9.99. Also available is “Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Alabama.” At all three stores. $12.99.
Jones said a customer recommended “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep.” “It’s a best seller in Europe and really does help your child fall asleep,” he said. The book has instructions on how to modulate your voice and when to yawn so you’ll get the best results. At Snoozy’s Kids. $15.99.
“The Day the Crayons Came Home” follows the wildly popular “The Day the Crayons Quit.” This book’s colorful characters include Maroon, Turquoise and Pea Green. At Snoozy’s Kids. $18.99.
Kit and Caboodle
The Just Add Milk science and art kits use something that’s likely in everybody’s fridge to conduct experiments and create designs. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $14.99.
Color a Cape is a reversible plastic cape that’s a solid color on one side. On the other side, you can use markers to color in designs that have fairy, princess, knight and pirate motifs. You can get aprons, too. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $20.99, ages 4 and up.
Use large, chunky pegs to make designs matching the gender-neutral cards in Fantacolor Junior. This fun game teaches color matching, and it’s handy to take in the car when you’re going to grandma’s house for Christmas. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $29.99, ages 2 and up.
In days of yore, kits like Aquabeads required tediously ironing the beads so they’d melt together into a design. This modern version lets you make the design and simply spray it with water to set it. Will wonders never cease! At Snoozy’s Kids and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $14.99 and up, ages 6 and up.
The Yarn Tree makes a cute and crafty addition to any little girl’s room. Wrap colored strands of yarn around the bendable tree-shaped stand to hold jewelry. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $34.99, ages 8 and up.
Spice Box craft kits are neatly packaged sets with clay, pipe cleaners and watercolor paints so kids of almost all ages can make crafty creations. Sudduth, at Smith’s, said the rock painting set is extremely popular, and there’s a paintable tea set, too. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $10-$30.
Magna-Tiles are 3-D magnetic building tiles that come in clear colors to let you build pyramids, cubes and other geometric shapes. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $53.99, $79.99 and $119.99, ages 3 and up.
Magformers kits are great creative toys. Each piece has a magnet at every angle. You can build 2-D and 3-D structures. At all three stores. $13.99 and up, ages 3 and up.
Sudduth said he’s “really digging” Scientific Explorer kits, designed for a wide range of ages and interests. The Tasty Science kits let you make your own candy, for example, and there are lots of others to choose from, including My First Science Kits for little ones. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $19.99.
Kids can decorate the enchanting Dreamland Fairy House; fairies can then visit and bring sweet dreams with them. In case these magical creatures fail to show, fairy dolls are available, too. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. $24.99 for the houses and $14.99 for the dolls, ages 4 and up.
Need a teacher’s present that’s not a gift card or scented soap? Use holiday-themed Plush Craft kits to decorate soft 3-D ornaments. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. $7.99.
Stuff Those Stockings
Make Star Wars and Transformers characters, airplanes and other miniature models with Fascinations Metal Earth kits. Older kids will enjoy putting them together and then showing them off on a solar-powered display stand. Dads seem to like them, too. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. Model kits are $6.99 and up. The display stand is $9.99.
Mini Rubik’s Cubes, Perplexus and Duncan Yo-Yos make great gifts for boys and girls – perfect when you need to give similar, don’t-cost-an-arm-and-a-leg gifts to classmates or friends. At Homewood Toy and Hobby and Smith’s Variety. Under $10.
Pop something sweet into a stocking with hot chocolate spoons. Use them to stir hot milk to add chocolate and chocolate-peppermint flavors. At Snoozy’s Kids. $3.99.
Personalize the Smoobee hairbrush by decorating it yourself. It has big bristles that are easy on little girls’ curls. At Smith’s Variety. $19.99
Flickerz stretch shoelaces don’t come untied as easily as their regular cousins and come in children’s and adults’ size. At Smith’s Variety. $9.99 for three sets of strings.
Super Dough clay animal figures come in containers that hold all the colors of clay you need to make monkeys and other critters. You can store the clay to use over and over or air-dry your creations to harden and save them. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $3.99.
Poppy Drops are temporary tattoo “jewelry” that little girls can pop on for pretend earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Poppy Drops use vegetable dyes so they’re not irritating to the skin. At Homewood Toy and Hobby. $7.99 and $9.99.
Jazz up your bike – and make it more visible in the dark – by twirling bike lights around your vehicle’s spokes or post. At Smith’s Variety and Homewood Toy and Hobby. $9.99 to $19.99.