American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s Top 20 List

What “Hot” Toys Won’t Cool Off?

Kids want the “hot” new toys for the holidays, but parents worry: What happens when those holiday fads fade? Now there’s a list of exceptional toys that children will love to play with long after the holidays.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) has released its “Top 20 Toys” list for the 2006 holiday season. This one-of-a-kind list is based on input from independent toy store owners around the country, the “toy professionals” who spend every day of the year working with consumers and kids. This daily interaction gives these retailers unmatched, firsthand knowledge of toys that are truly compelling to both kids and parents.

“Every year, parents tell us how some of the latest, trendy toys and gadgets end up at the bottom of the toy box soon after the holidays,” says Kathleen McHugh, executive director of ASTRA. “But a toy from one of our local neighborhood toy stores will ignite their imagination and provide a different play experience every time the child picks it up. These unique fun toys inspire their creativity, making them favorites the children turn to again and again all year round.”

These toys also earn high approval ratings from parents and educators by helping children build developmental skills, reinforcing classroom lessons, teaching sharing and caring and even getting kids off the couch. And, at ASTRA-member stores, parents enjoy atmospheres that encourage creativity and play, combined with personal service and expert advice for a toy shopping experience unlike anywhere else.

Here are ASTRA’s top 20 picks for toys this holiday season:

1. UglyDolls by Prettyugly LLC

These quirky, colorful, pillowy characters have taken the United States by storm. From tots to teens, boys and girls, even the hard-to-please tweens are snatching them up. Their appeal is ageless and timeless. Soft and huggable, Uglydolls make endearing naptime companions, each with its own personality or ready to assume one that most suits a child’s. In this age of image, mass production and hard edges, ASTRA retailers are delighted to see a return to soft, handmade plush, a classic that’s been serving the socio-emotional needs of children for generations. Good for all ages.

2. Play Foam by Educational Insights and Play Foam Kit by Creativity for Kids

Squish it, shape it, save it – then start all over again. Play Foam is a new miracle sculpting material that, unlike a similar TV-advertised mass-market product, never dries out. It’s lightweight, won’t crumble and doesn’t stick to skin or surfaces. Available in a pack of six vibrant colors or in a kit, Play Foam is the ultimate open-ended artsy experience – inventive and wonderfully creative. Ages 3 years and up.

3. Ghost Phantom Pirate Ship by Papo from Hotaling Imports

A miniature of the phantom ship of legend, outfit this two-mast miniature wood galleon with 4-inch hand-painted Papo figures and it’s a little pirate’s dream come true. Fantasy play frees children to explore possibilities beyond the realm of reality and to conjure up worlds where they are in control, which is probably why it so appeals to children. A pirate’s life to a little boy is one of rough adventure and rowdy excitement (and no parents’ nasty rules), and so has been a classic play theme for ages, made all the more popular this season by Johnny Depp’s sensational blockbuster. Ages 3 to 11.

4. Calico Critters Baby Park and Playhouse by International Playthings Inc.

The babies now have a place of their own. That’s the news in Cloverleaf Corner, home to Calico Critters, the itty-bitty flocked animals that kids adore. This miniature play system was introduced years ago for preschoolers, but ASTRA toy retailers are finding that girls as old as 9 and 10 are into them. For preschoolers, this miniature play system functions as an experimental lab where they can create an imaginative world, enact real-life adventures and be totally in charge. For older girls, Calico Critters are little, cute and highly collectible. Ages 3 to 10 years.

5. Bilibo by Kid-O-Distribution

Rock, spin, hide under, peek through, fill with water, wear as a shell or as a hat. These are just some of the many things kids have invented to do with a Bilibo. The brainchild of a Swiss designer and child development experts, there’s something magically attractive about these bright-colored, iconic-shaped plastic forms. At home, at the park, at the beach, in the water and even in the snow, Bilibo provides hours of active open-ended play. Ages 2 to 7 years.

6. Mighty World by International Playthings Inc.

Down to the wrinkles in their work clothes, Mighty World delivers the realistic details that kids demand in their miniature make-believe world. Mighty World is a new people play system built around four real-life themes: rescue, construction, wildlife adventure and city life. With its realistic poseable figures, vehicles and little accessory stuff, it particularly appeals to preschoolers who are big into role play as they try to sort and figure out the world in which they live and how to interact and interface both socially and emotionally. Ages 3 to 8 years.

7. Chunky Puzzles by Melissa & Doug and by Small World Toys

Simultaneously two leading players in the specialty toy market – Melissa and Doug and Small World Toys – have introduced their own series. Chunky Puzzles are 2-in-1 puzzle and play adventures, helping toddlers to develop manual dexterity and perceptual skills, problem solve and imagine at the same time. They can put the fat chunky pieces in place on the board, like a puzzle, matching by picture and shape. Or stand them up, move them about and play pretend. Ages 2 to 5 years.

8. I Never Forget a Face by Eeboo

Our retailers are amazed at the staying power of this simple first matching-and-memory game. The appeal is as simple as the play: Kids love kids! Made of heavy laminated board, the pairs of cards feature Lizzie Rockwell’s charming illustrations of children of the world. Aside from helping to develop important memory and matching skills, key cognitive components to reading readiness, this Eeboo game promotes multicultural awareness and social-emotional growth. Ages 3 to 6 years.

9. Little Builder Whimsy Block Set by BEKA

Forget flashes, beeps and batteries! When it comes to fostering imagination and building a solid foundation for math, no toy equips kids better than old-fashioned unit blocks. Add wheels and you have a combination that will keep kids entertained for years. Made by expert Minnesota craftsmen from north woods hard rock maple, this unique set combines traditional unit blocks in a variety of sizes and shapes with Beka’s unique Whimsy wheels and notched builder blocks. Ages 2 to 10 years.

10. Magneatos by Guidecraft

2006 Oppenheim Triple Award Winner, Magneatos gives little hands big, safe jumbo-sized pieces with super-strong magnets that stick and stack as high as their imagination. Now small children can join in the fun of magnetic bar-and-ball construction and create strong, colorful structures that tower over the big kids’. Like basic blocks, all construction toys are calculus for kids, engaging them in a creative, open-ended activity that helps to develop 3-D reasoning and important problem-solving skills. Ages 3 to 8 years.

11. Sticker Factory by Alex

The hottest new art activity kit is as cool, clever and creative as can be! It’s an amazing kid-friendly, heat-free laminating machine that transforms plain paper pictures into smooth, shiny stickers. And it requires no batteries! Simply cut out a picture or draw one of your own; then roll it through. Voila! Sticker mania! Ages 5 to 12 years.

12. Ringgz by Blue Orange Games

Don’t be deceived by its artful appearance. Ringgz takes real skill and cunning to win. In this fast-paced strategy game, two to four players challenge each other to win the most territories using colorful wooden rings. In general, there’s been a real return in recent years to board games to the delight of ASTRA retailers, who point to the many benefits of game play.

13. My First Science Kits by Scientific Explorer

If you’re old enough to ask why and you love making a mess, then you’re ripe and ready for science. Scientific Explorer discovered a largely untapped age market when they introduced My First Science a number of years ago. Now they have an entire series of hands-on science activities, geared for ages 4 to 8 years. My First Dino Kit, My First Geology and My First Weather are their new hot-selling kits. Ages 4 to 8 years.

14. Micro TREK by Thames & Kosmos

More than a microscope, Micro TREK is a journey into micro-space. The kit includes a high-quality die-cast compound-power microscope with a projector attachment, tools and a slide-making kit. But what really makes this kit worth its high admission price is the 52-page full-color manual, chockfull of projects that truly teach the budding scientist how to use a microscope and its tools. Ages 12 years through teen.

15. Storybook Musical Treasure Boxes by Enchantmints

Complete with music and twirling figurines, the new series of Storybook Treasure Boxes make beautiful gifts for every girl on your list – from the 3-year-old through the hard-to-please tween to the going-away college student to the soon-to-be mom. Getting their inspiration from classic poems and fairytales, the musical jewelry boxes come in a variety of styles, all featuring gorgeous full-color graphics and lots of nifty hideaway drawers.

16. Knot a Quilt by Alex

Go knotty! Knot a Quilt requires no needles, no stitching, no stuffing. Just knot the fringed squares together into a colorful pattern. Great craft activity for one, super activity for a whole gaggle of girls! Get one for the next sleepover or get-together. Ages 6 to 12 years.

17. RC Demolition Derby by Kid Galaxy

Boys of all ages love their cars – and just love to drive ’em, crash ’em and smash ’em. Moms aren’t always so sure this activity is all that healthy. Kid Galaxy to the rescue with their new RC Demolition Derby – stock car RCs that are designed for kids to crash – and then repair. Hit any one of these babies into the wall or another car and it’s a wreck. Push the roof down and the whole car pops back, repaired and ready for another go-around. Ages 4 to 10 years.

18. My First Dolls: Calin and Tidoo by Corolle

Babies love babies! None more so than these soft little dolls with the winsome faces and the delicious vanilla scent. Pellet-filled so they adopt any pose, 12-inch Calins and Tidoos make great nighttime and daytime companions for little wannabe moms. Tidoos go in and out of the bath tub as well, featuring bodies that are water impermeable, towel dryable, but still soft and cuddly. This year Corolle has created a whole collection of accessories that make taking care of these babies even more fun. Check out the adorable port-a-crib with mesh sides, fleecy blanket and built-in overhead toy bar.

19. Magnatiles by Valtech

Go from flat to 3-D with the snap of a magnet! Magna-Tiles are amazingly simple: plastic shapes, magnetically engineered so that they attract on all sides, even when flipped around. So simple, a young child can easily create designs on a flat surface or build upright structures. So ingenious, they put into play geometry, symmetry and other basic math concepts. Ages 3 to 8 years.

20. Peacock Puppet by Folkmanis

Incredibly expressive, Folkmanis hand puppets make wonderful interactive gifts for all ages, super for tots, older sibs and adult storytellers alike. If you want to know what “proud as a peacock” truly means, slide your hand in this bird, spread your fingers. Wow, what a show!

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