The Year's Top Children's Products - From Toys, Story CDs and DVDs to Books, Music, Software and Video Games
Jump-start your holiday shopping with these winners from the 2009 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) competition. With 19 years of experience selecting the top children's products, NAPPA's team of expert judges - with help from parent and child testers - present you with their top picks, setting the gold standard in children's learning and entertainment.
The Rest of the Best
You'll find more sure-bets for kids among the NAPPA Honors winners highlighted at www.NAPPA.Parenthood.com. You can also download shopping lists from each category of NAPPA Gold Award winners.
By Ellen Metrick
For virtually every category and age group, toy companies have used their ingenuity to make good toys even better. This year's winners reflect an evolution from traditional playthings to impressive, exciting tools for broadening knowledge, honing high-tech skills, and experiencing both challenge and delight. We proudly present the toy manufacturers' freshest and most inventive work.
For Infants & Toddlers
Baby Einstein™ Animal Exploration Tunnel, The Baby Einstein Company, $39.95; www.BabyEinstein.com; ages 6 months and up. Children and adults can crawl through this mesh-sided play tunnel, decorated with photos of real jungle animals and cartoon counterparts. The 4-foot, see-through hideaway has a padded mat and overhead rings for hanging toys.
Elmo Tickle Hands, Fisher-Price, $30; www.ticklehands.com; ages 18 months and up. Elmo's contagious laughter accompanies the vibrating tickle of furry red paws. When children don Elmoesque hands to tickle others, they feel vibration themselves. One glove has the electronic tickle component; the other is purely kid-charged.
Flutterby Teether, Sassy Inc., $3.99; www.sassybaby.com; ages 3 months and up. Bold buggy eyes and curled antennae capture baby's attention, while the Flutterby's water-filled wings soothe teething discomfort. A second set of rubber-nubbed wings further stimulates baby's mouth and encourages grasping.
If the Shape Fits eebee, Every Baby Co., $32; www.eebee.com; infants and up. This plush pal engages little ones with simple childlike charm. It comes with four cushy, colorful shapes that can be stacked, tossed or attached to baby's arms and legs to increase interaction, exploration and discovery.
Adorable Kinders Rag Doll Alise, Granza Inc., $59.99; www.adorablekinders.com; ages 3 and up. Cuddly rag dolls come with a key-code to access online fun and games that follow school standards. Lessons are introduced by grade level, from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Dolphin Explorer Boat and Dino Adventure Rig, Sprig Toys, $29.99 each; www.sprigtoys.com; ages 3 and up. Simple designs and faceless characters put imagination back into play with these two charming adventure playsets. Both prehistoric and aquatic sets are constructed from SprigwoodÔ - an eco-friendly material composed of recycled plastics and reclaimed sawdust.
Kidizoom™ Digital Camera Plus, VTech Electronics, $59.99; www.vtechkids.com; ages 3 and up. Budding photographers can take up to 2,000 pictures and 10 minutes of video, then embellish them with stamps, frames, distortion effects, voice messages and animation. View images on the camera's LCD screen, or a computer or TV screen.
Make Your Own Animal Puppets, Creativity for Kids, $17.99, www.creativityforkids.com; ages 3 and up. Adorn these three chenille-soft socks with self-sticking felt shapes, wiggly eyes and fuzzy fur. Fun accessories and animal body parts, such as ears and snouts, adhere extraordinarily well during the puppet show that's sure to follow!
Rainbow River Stones, Wee Blossom; $151; www.munchkinfield.com; ages 3 and up. These step-on molded plastic stone shapes have non-skid patterns that add texture and grip. Stones can be placed individually or stacked, so that stepping from one to the next is even more challenging.
"It's fun to pretend there are sharks and alligators and yucky seaweed in the river and we have to jump across without falling in and getting eaten. But if you do fall in, you have to eat the seaweed!" - Child Tester, a 6-year-old boy
For Ages 5 & Up
Digital Blue SNAP Video Camera, Digital Blue, $79.99; www.digiblue.com; ages 5 and up. This video camera captures up to 30 minutes of viewing pleasure with one simple button. The 2-inch LCD screen is crystal clear and the video is a high-resolution stunner that can be easily uploaded to Facebook or YouTube.
Razor® Rip RiderTM 360; Razor USA, LLC; $129.99; www.razor.com; ages 5 and up. Like the familiar "Big Wheel" bike, the Rip Rider sits low and has a back-support seat, handle bars and pedals. But every ride brings rollercoaster excitement as the Rider's highly responsive casters help kids zip, swirl and make 360° turns!
"This ride-on created quite a stir from kids and parents alike. Every child who rode it wanted it, and every adult who watched needed to know where to get it and wished they were small enough to take a turn! It is hands-down one of the best ride-on toys we've seen." - NAPPA Judge
Swinxs, Swinxs BV, $150; www.swinxs.com; ages 4 and up. This screen-less game console has 10 preinstalled games, with more free downloads. The get-up-and-keep-moving games range from timed relay races to charades. The unit gives verbal directions and identifies players by scanning their colored wristbands.
For Ages 7 & Up
LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0, LEGO Systems Inc., $279.99; www.LEGO.com; ages 10 and up. Mindstorms enables kids to build and program their own robots, using a PC or Mac computer. Use a USB cable or Bluetooth technology to transfer the programs to the robot and control it remotely with a cell phone or PDA!
Ridemakerz, Ridemakerz, $10 and up for cars, $2 and up for accessories; www.ridemakerz.com; ages 8 and up. Kids create customized cars by choosing a body style and then picking out wheels, rims, spoilers, running boards and sound chips to trick out their ride. Free-wheel or remote-control options are available.
The Shred Sled, Skyking Worldwide, $119.99; www.theshredsled.com; ages 8 and up. This new-generation skateboard gives a faster-paced, smoother ride on four in-line casters. The unique dual platform is more responsive to movement and constantly tests the rider's agility.
"This is the coolest; it turns really easily! One of my kids is definitely getting one for Christmas - just so I can ride it!" - Adult Tester and father of three
Board and Card Games
By Peggy Brown
As families get back to basics, games are among the best basic entertainment around. Board games bring friends and loved ones face-to-face better than TV, movies and video games do - and the price is right, even in tough times. Put game night on the schedule, zap some popcorn and play, because games make you learn and laugh. They can be the glue that pieces family time back together.
Counting Rainbows, Dowling Magnets, $19.95; www.dowlingmagnets.com; ages 4 and up. Practice counting by moving various colored rainbow, sun, bluebird, squirrel and pot of gold magnet pieces on the magnetic board (included) or even the kitchen fridge. High-quality pieces offer a fun and charming introduction to computation.
Ages 5 & Up
Ticks Tacks Toes, Educational Insights, $24.99; www.educationalinsights.com; ages 6 and up. This tricky twist on the traditional tic-tac-toe game uses funny playing pieces that look like actual ticks (bugs), tacks (pushpins) and toes (toes)! Take turns placing your piece on the grid to get ticks, tacks and toes in rows.
Gobblet Gobblers, Blue Orange Games, $19.99; www.blueorangegames.com; ages 5 and up. Tic-Tac-Toe meets the dog-eat-dog world. Your play pieces, depending on their sizes, can be gobbled up by your opponent's play piece - or you can gobble his! Played in pairs, children easily grasp the simple and fun strategy.
Sherlock, Playroom Entertainment, $10; www.playrooment.com; ages 5 and up. In this clever update to standard memory games, cards are laid in a circular pattern and dictate the direction in which Sherlock moves. The Sherlock card, itself, indicates what you need to remember, which makes deduction "Elementary!"
"I never played cards this way before. It's cool." - Child Tester, age 9
For Ages 7 & Up
Exago, Goliath Games, $29.99; www.goliathgames.us; ages 7 and up. This game combines abstract strategy with a blissfully simple goal: get four hexagonal tiles in a row on the honeycomb-like game board. You'll be surprised at how much suspense builds as you decide whether to move offensively or defensively.
Squiggle Connect, RandomLine, $19.99; www.randomline.com; ages 8 and up. In this dot-to-dot drawing game, the first roll of the die tells how many dots to draw; the second tells what kind of line to use to connect the dots. Create a picture and then make up a story to go with the picture!
Ages 8 & Up / Family FunTelestrations™, USAopoly, $29.95; www.usaopoly.com; ages 13 and up. This hilarious game is played like the classic party game of "telephone," in which misinterpretation down the line elicits laughs. Player 1 might draw a word card that says "kickball," and sketch a man kicking a ball. Player 2 looks at the drawing, writes "soccer ball" and shows his word card to the next person. Player 3 draws a soccer ball and shows his picture to Player 4 who writes "pepperoni pizza" on his card, and on it goes.
Quelf, Imagination, $29.95; www.imaginationgames.com; ages 12 and up. Quelf gives the idea of "random" new meaning with its combination of stunts, quiz questions, show-offs, custom rules and ridiculous topics. Never the same game twice, it's simultaneously bizarre, perplexing, occasionally embarrassing, and generally silly.
"This game is soup to nuts in the kitchen sink!" - Adult Tester and mother
By Ranny Levy
Among this year's winners, you'll find some familiar DVD titles along with some wonderful surprises. Despite the many titles we review each year, I've discovered a couple of new ones that will definitely be joining my personal collection.
For Infants & Toddlers
Olivia, Chorion/Nickelodeon, 2009; 99 min.; $16.99; www.nickshop.com; ages 1 to 5. Adorable Olivia, of the popular children's books, moves between fantasy and reality with contagious ease, imagining herself as a super hero, pop star or mommy. Perfect programming for toddlers, preschoolers and their mommies and grandmas.
"What a fun way to introduce kids to book-based videos. I would share this with my grandkids." - Adult Tester and grandparent
For Infants & Toddlers - DVD Series
So Smart! Baby's First-Word Stories, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, 2009; 30 min. each; $15.99 each; www.echobridgeentertainment.com; ages 1 to 3. Created by early childhood specialists, this video collection helps develop early language skills. Edward, Iggy, Dee Dee and Larry introduce simple words about your home, your closet, the outdoors, pets and more, and then build simple sentences and stories around the words.
"Absolutely one of the best educational series for toddlers."- NAPPA Judge
"Love it! Love it! Love it! This is so perfect for developing language skills. So much better than any other toddler video on the market."- Adult Tester and grandparent
For Preschoolers & Up
Classical Baby "I'm Grown Up Now": The Poetry Show, HBO, 2008; 30 min.; $9.97; http://store.hbo.com; ages 2 to 5. Brings classic poetry to life through animation, songs, live-action dancing and more. Readers, such as John Lithgow, Susan Sarandon and others highlight some of the world's greatest poems, from "The Owl and the Pussycat" to "The Wheelbarrow."
"I love this DVD! It reminded me of poetry I knew from my childhood, and now I can share the poems with my own children." - Adult Tester
"I love this 'cuz it tells you what poetry's about after they say one of the poems. It had some real pictures and some animations. I like that." - Child Tester, age 5
Lots to Learn: Head to Toe With Buster, Lots to Learn, LLC, 2008; 30 min.; $19.99; www.lotstolearn.com; ages 2 to 5. This child-interactive video is on target with key preschool concepts, such as learning about colors, tying your shoes and facial expressions. Kids love the games and songs. Parents appreciate the simple language and introduction of Spanish words.
"Brilliant! This DVD really talks to kids at their level. ... It's interesting for adults and children alike." - Adult Tester
The Jumpitz Celebrate Animals!, The Jumpitz, 2008; 60 min.; $12.99; www.jumpitz.com; ages 2 to 5. This DVD will get eyes popping and toes tapping with bright, clear images of live turtles and tortoises and fun, bouncy songs. Your kids will get to brainstorm ideas and questions about the animals, including how to throw them a surprise party.
"A great DVD to watch with your child. It quickly gets you singing along and it makes you want to grab some books so you can explore the world with your child." - Adult Tester
For Preschoolers & Up - Series
Scholastic Treasury of 25 Storybook Classics: Dinosaurs, Trucks, Monsters and More, New Video (distributors), 2009; 291 min.; $29.95; www.newkideo.com; ages 2 to 5. Storybooks come to life in this collection of classic tales. Get ready for bed with How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? or take a play break with favorites like The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
"I love the stories that are funny, like a dinosaur that can't fit in a bed and they try to find good ways to make him sleep." - Child Tester, age 5
For Ages 5 & Up
Let's Explore ... the Rainforest, One Smart Cookie Productions, 2008; $18.95; www.onesmartcookieproductions.com; ages 4 to 12. User-friendly DVD lets you choose an aspect of the rain forest to learn about through photos and videos. Children will love the fun animals, and parents will appreciate the ecological information and visual appeal.
"The multi-level aspect of this video made it so much fun for my whole family to watch!" - Adult Tester and mother"The frogs were cool! I could have watched them a long, long time." - Child Tester, age 5
The Riddle in a Bottle, Sisbro Studios, LLC, 2008; 30 minutes; $19.95; www.sisbro.com; ages 5 to 8. Beautiful underwater photography will captivate kids as they delight in solving riddles about animals, currents, tides, weather, and how moving water connects them all.
"We laughed, we hummed along and, most importantly, we tried to figure out the riddle. A movie that made us think and discuss; it was fun!"- Adult Tester and mother
For Ages 5 & Up - Series
How'd They Build That...? Series, Marvelous Media, LLC, 2009; 50 minutes each; $8.99 each; www.marvelousmedia.net; ages 4 to 8. Take a tour right into the factories where large machines are made. The excitement of watching a fire engine, school bus or garbage truck being built and then following it out into a work setting cannot be duplicated.
For Ages 8 & Up
An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong, American Girl, 2009; 90 min; $19.98; www.americangirl.com; ages 8 to12. When Chrissa (Sammi Hanratty) moves to a new school, a group of female bullies torment her in class, on the bus, online and at the swim club. Realistically captures bullying, providing a conversation starter for parents about a subject that begs attention.
"We loved seeing Sammi Hanratty and Adair Tishler in this film! We have seen kids bullied at school and liked how this teaches you how to deal with it." - Child Testers, girls ages 9 and 10
Storytelling & Spoken-Word
By Marilyn McPhie
Parenting is go, go, go - a daily workout of shopping, washing, cooking, diapering, etc. Here's our invitation to pause the busyness, gather the family around, and just listen. Pop one of these winning storytelling recordings into your CD player and note the calm that settles over everyone (even in rush-hour traffic). You'll laugh. You'll sigh. Family time doesn't get any better than this!
For Younger Children
Storytelling for Kids!, Mary Jo Huff; Storytellin' Time, 2009; $15; www.storytellin.com. This storyteller knows kids! Huff's timeless, well-loved nursery rhymes and stories are reassuring and engaging. Great musical backgrounds and interludes create a story world; Halloween and Christmas selections are an added bonus.
Tell Me A Story 3: Women of Wonder, written by Amy Friedman, read by various artists; Friedman & Danziger, 2009; $14.95; www.mythsandtales.com. This can't-miss audio anthology features six stories from a wide variety of cultures, read by famous and newbie storytellers. The heroines are wise, smart, clever, kind, honest, generous - and sassy. Great listening for both girls and boys.
For Elementary Students
39 Clues, Book 2: One False Note, $19.95, written by Gordon Korman and read by David Pittu; Scholastic Audio, 2008; www.scholastic.com. The second installment in this wild-and-crazy series about mystery-solving kids on a worldwide hunt for clues teaches your children about the life and times of Mozart in an adventurous way. The story also moves online, where players collect clue cards and practice multi-media skills.
For Tweens & Teens
Daniel X: Watch the Skies, written by James Patterson and Ned Rust and read by Milo Ventimiglia; Hachette Audio, 2009; $22.98 (four CDs plus bonus audio book of Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment) www.HachetteAudio.com. A 15-year-old alien hunter must save the world from destruction by a super-villain in this fantasy-meets-cyberpunk story. Kids get hooked on the short chapters, pop-culture references, current slang and snappy comebacks; they'll be back for more in the series.
Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales, written by various authors and read by various celebrities; Hachette Audio, 2009; $16.98 (three CDs), www.HachetteAudio.com. Families will love this cornucopia of African stories, introduced by Desmond Tutu and read by celebrities. The three-CD set, spiced with lively music, recounts tales from Morocco to South Africa. Some stories are a bit gritty, so it's best suited for kindergarteners and older kids.
Books & Magazines
By Dr. Helen Foster James and Kathleen Krull
Writers and artists continue to jump higher in the noble effort to entertain and educate our children. Lots of serious titles this year - about social issues, war-torn countries, milestones in history, fatal illness, etc. But don't worry - there's also plenty of silliness, with a plethora of animal tales and the funniest introduction to toilet-training that one could imagine. Read, enjoy and share together!
For Infants & Toddlers
Baby Colors, by Rachael Hale; Little Brown Books, 2009; $6.99; www.lb-kids.com. Adorable babies with expressive eyes are paired with sweet rhyming text and a rainbow of colors in this small, sturdy board book. Each baby showcases a color with a four-line rhyme and photograph.
The Potty Caddy, by Rachel Gordon, illustrated by Sarah Bergmann, Workman, 2008; $14.95; www.workman.com. Informative little books for parents and kids, a chart with stickers, a pack of "toilet targets," funny magazines to read while in the bathroom, a special roll of toilet paper - this is a complete toilet-training kit!
Waddle, by Rufus Butler Seder; Workman, 2009; $12.95; www.workman.com. Show babies how exciting books can be with this "Scanimation" title. Bold images of penguins, frogs, snakes, hummingbirds, and other animals actually move across the page.
When I First Held You: A Lullaby from Israel, by Mirik Snir, illustrated by Eleyor Snir; Kar-Ben Publishing, 2009; $9.95; www.karben.com. A lyrical lullaby in rhyme, in which a parent describes the happy day when the young child was born. This charming book captures the love and emotion of a baby's birth.
For Preschoolers & Up
Duck! Rabbit!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld; Chronicle Books, 2009; $16.99; www.chroniclebooks.com. This clever picture book will have each family member looking and looking again. It's a visual puzzle, and readers must decide whether they're looking at ducks or rabbits.
"This would be great for a lesson about understanding different points of view ... how different people might see something in different ways." - Adult Tester, a former principal
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle, by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, and Mary Nethery; Little, Brown, 2009; $17.99; www.lb-kids.com. As difficult as it is to find ways to talk to kids about the war in Iraq, this touching animal story succeeds, with photos of a special friendship that will inspire discussion.
Panorama: A Foldout Book, by Fani Marceau, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet; Abrams, 2009; $19.95; www.abramsbooks.com. Unfold this gigantic book in one direction for lyrical text and bold pictures of animals from all over the world. Unfold in the other direction and learn what these same animals do at night.
The Christmas Magic, by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jon J Muth; Scholastic, 2009; $16.99; www.scholastic.com. Thompson takes readers on a journey to the far north, where they watch Santa ready his reindeer and select the perfect toy for each child in the world. Sure to make all believe in the magic of Christmas.
For Ages 6 & Up
Chicken Dance, by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat; Sterling Publishing, 2009; $14.95; www.sterlingpublishing.com/kids. There's a Barnyard Talent Show tonight, and two chicks, Marge and Lola, are determined to win. The prize? Two tickets to an Elvis Poultry concert. This wacky romp is sure to make readers laugh out loud.Finding Lincoln, by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Colin Bootman; Albert Whitman, 2009; $16.99; www.albertwhitman.com. Louis must write an essay about Lincoln, but it's 1951 and he can't use the "whites only" library. A historical fiction picture book showcasing bravery and celebrating the joy of libraries and the passion of librarians.
Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross; Sourcebooks, 2009, $4.99 (paper); www.jabberwockykids.com. Sometimes, kids just need to laugh. In these four easy-to-read stories about mischievous Henry, kids may laugh so hard they'll snort milk out through their noses!
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca; Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2009; $17.99; www.simonandschuster.com. Captivating drawings and a simple, beautifully written text dramatize the 1969 moonwalk in terms just right for young readers who will marvel at the amazing journey of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
For Ages 9 & Up
I, Q: Independence Hall, by Roland Smith; Sleeping Bear Press, 2008; $8.95 (paper); www.sleepingbearpress.com. Quest (or "Q") and his stepsister Angela are thrust into the work of the Secret Service and the Israeli Mossad when Angela realizes she is being followed. This thriller will take readers on a fast-paced ride.
Savvy, Ingrid Law; Walden Media/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008; $16.99; www.walden.com. Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose 13th birthday will reveal her "savvy" - a magical power unique to each member of her family. A Newbery Honor book.
Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall, by Emily Bearn, illustrated by Nick Price; Little Brown Books, 2009; $16.99; www.lb-kids.com. In three short novels that ooze charm, two mice venture beyond their stylish, cozy home within a cottage broom closet to explore the world outside and save the day for their human friends again and again.
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead; Wendy Lamb Books, 2009; $15.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids. An elegant puzzle, begging to be reread, about sixth-grader Miranda in New York City, for fans of classics like The Westing Game, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and especially A Wrinkle in Time.
For Ages 12 & UpIt's All Too Much, So Get It Together: Less Junk, Cleaner Mind, Better Life, by Peter Walsh, illustrated by Jon Pack and John Hendrix; Simon & Schuster, 2009; $12.99 (paper); www.simonandschuster.com. Professional organizer Peter Walsh brings his mental and physical decluttering concepts to a teen audience. The entire family will quickly be applying Walsh's organizational secrets to create a calmer lifestyle.
Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen; Wendy Lamb Books, 2009, $15.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids. Solitary, bookish Finn, during his 14th summer, has one goal: talking to as few people as possible. But then he meets Joanna, and is soon helping her cope with breast cancer.
The Bite of the Mango, by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland; Annick Press, 2008, $12.95 (paper); www.annickpress.com. Mariatu Kamara grew up in a small rural village in Sierra Leone. Army rebels attacked a nearby village, and brutally cut off Mariatu's hands. Horrifying and inspiring, her memoir tells an unforgettable story of courage, resilience and hope. Violence and disturbing events make this more appropriate for readers ages 16 and older.
Wild Things, by Clay Carmichael; Front Street, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, 2009; $18.95; www.frontstreetbooks.com. Witty Zoe has seen too much for her 11 years, and at first she has more in common with the feral cat she's trying to befriend than she does with the people in her new home in North Carolina.
ChickaDEE, Owlkids; $4.50 per issue, $29.99 1-year subscription (10 issues); www.owlkids.com. ChickaDEE celebrates its 30th anniversary discovering "A World of Fun." Each issue is packed with comics, puzzles, animals, crafts, science experiments and jokes to entertain and help kids think in new ways.
Kahani, Kahani Media; $5 per issue, $20 1-year subscription (4 issues); $35 2-year subscription (8 issues); www.kahani.com. "Empower, Educate, and Entertain" are the focus of Kahani, a South Asian Literary Magazine for Children. The quarterly magazine illuminates the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America. It's full of stories, art activities - and no advertisements.
By John Wood and Tor Hyams
The quest continues to find a satisfying mix of new voices and experienced professional children's artists who have the "Wow! Can't-wait-to-hear-that-again!" factor. We think you'll be happy with all the winners of this year's 2009 NAPPA Awards for children's music.
LullabiesThe Ultimate Lullaby Connection, various artists, Twin Sisters Productions, 2008; $19.99; four CDs & book; www.twinsisters.com; all ages. This starter set should be given to all new parents. Four beautifully produced lullaby CDs, feature instrumentals, classical music, familiar melodies with gentle adult vocals, and known tunes with children's voices. The inclusion of Baby's First Year Memory Book makes this package a real winner!
Songs From the Garden of Eden, various artists, The Secret Mountain, 2009; $14.98 CD, $22.95 Book/CD; www.thesecretmountain.com; all ages. A collection of 28 Jewish lullabies, rhymes and folk songs - sung in English, Hebrew and Spanish - are orchestrated to lull any child to sleep. Traditional Jewish folk instrumentation, from clarinet to accordion, complements the soothing vocals.
Celeste Sings: Kids Dream, Dana Anton, State of Mind Entertainment, 2008; $9.95; www.romanticrealistrecords.com; all ages. A refreshing blend of new lullabies that dovetail seamlessly with tried-and-true classics. Lush harmonies float on a sea of keyboards, strings and an occasional harmonica. Lovely takes on "Edelweiss," "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and "All Through the Night."
Toddlers & Up
Soulville, various artists, Little Monster Records, 2008; $12.98; www.littlemonsterrecords.com; ages 2 to 8. An impeccably produced venture into the best that old school R&B has to offer, including Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. Complete with a sing-a-long kids' chorus, this album and book guarantee a meaningful introduction to the world of soul and social issues.
There's A Train, Bill Currier, We Kids Rock, 2009; $9.99; www.wekidsrock.com; up to age 5. These straight ahead rock-mixed-with-folk songs and Currier's smoky voice get little ones up and dancing. Moms and dads will appreciate the fresh arrangements of "Wheels on the Bus" and "Down By the Bay." This album downright rocks!
Kids in the City, Laura Doherty, Laura Doherty Music, 2009; $15; www.lauradohertymusic.com; up to age 6. This urban-inspired album of original songs features resonant vocals that soar over a mostly folk-inspired band. Doherty's carefully crafted lyrics and positive messages appeal to toddlers and parents alike.
Ages 4 & Up
Banjo To Beatbox, Cathy & Marcy, Community Music, 2009; $7.99; www.cathymarcy.com; ages 4 to 9. This delightful hybrid album of classic-folk-meets-hip-hop includes a stunning modern touch in its beatbox collaboration with Christylez Bacon. The CD features a bonus concert, too.
Aventura Collage, Mariana Iranzi, Mariana Iranzi Music, 2009; $8; www.marianairanzi.com; ages 2 to 10. The smooth Astrud Gilberto-esque voice of Argentina-born Mariana Iranzi masters melody in this Spanish-English CD. The eclectic mix of genres, ranging from reggae and jazz to bossa nova and folk, makes anyone get up and move.
My Trampoline, Peter Himmelman, Minivan Productions, 2009; $15.00 CD; www.minivanproductions.com; ages 3 to 10. Grammy-nominated Himmelman mixes guitar-driven rock beats with pop music and adds offbeat humor to create an irresistible blend of danceable songs. His distinctive voice, a bit reminiscent of Randy Newman and Elvis Costello, takes charge."All prospective children's music recording artists should listen to this album as a template for how song mixing is done." - NAPPA Judge
Road To Rock, The Boogers, Spire Records, 2008; $12.97; www.meet-the-boogers.com; ages 1 to 8. Claiming to be "the Wiggles' worst nightmare," The Boogers' debut album features 20 classic kid tunes done up in the most unlikely of styles - from punk rock to hard rock and even harder rock.
Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, Bill Childs, WRSI-FM, 2005-present; Radio Show; www.sparetherock.com and www.wrsi.com; all ages. The finest family show that radio offers. The father/daughter team of Bill and Ella Childs airs the best indie rock. Spinning everything from current groups for kids to classic rock from the 1960s, the show has cross-generational appeal.
Ages 9 & Up
¡Canta Mi Son! Juanita Ulloa, Vocal Power Productions, 2009; $13.99; www.juanitamusic.com; all ages. This CD takes on Spanish and proves, once again, the teaching power of music. Ulloa blends operatic vocal prowess with traditional Mariachi instrumentation in animal songs mixed with Mexican folk. The album contains sing-a-long karaoke versions as well!
Good Things Happen! Les Julian, Jump Right Over The Mooon Music, 2009; $15; www.lesjulian.com; ages 7 and up. Each of the 14 songs in this highly entertaining and exceptionally produced album is a mini-story of positive values, surprising heroes and feel-good music. Julian's clear baritone is a standout.
American Heroes #3, Jonathan Sprout, Sprout Recordings, 2009; $13.99; www.jonsprout.com; all ages. Sprout brings 10 more inspiring American heroes (Jane Adams, Wilma Rudolph, Cesar Chavez, etc.) to the musical round table, with a mixture of musical styles that emanates from a base of soft rock, with strong harmonies, and anthem-like, sing-a-long choruses.
Software, Video Games and Web Sites
By Alex Chisholm
For the third straight year, our kid testers played through an avalanche of fun and games. They were thrilled at the sheer number of new titles for the Nintendo Wii - active play is a big preference. We noticed an explosion this year in the diversity of online game and community sites for kids; and there's a much wider variety of sophisticated, engaging Web sites that appeal to different interests and skill levels.
For Preschoolers & Up
Curious George's Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin and ScrollMotion, 2009; $9.99; www.scrollmotion.com; ages 3 to 5. Requires: iPhone or iPod Touch. Young kids learn letters and begin to recognize everyday words with illustrations featuring story characters Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat. A great little resource to stimulate young minds when they insist on playing with mom's or dad's iPhone/iPod Touch.
Splatster, Fisher-Price, 2009; $54.99; www.fisher-price.com; ages 3 to 5. Splatster enables artistic fun on the TV screen, inviting kids to exercise creativity with a wireless "paint brush" controller and stencils, faces and spin art, as well as arcade-style games. Creations can be printed from home computers. Kid testers loved this one.
For Early Elementary Students
Crayola Art Studio, Core Learning Inc., 2008; $24.95; www.core-learning.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Windows 98, 2000, XP or Vista. Invites kids to learn to create, edit and transform digital images with fun-to-use tools, including Crayola pencils, paints, markers and crayons. A perfect introduction to the tools, features and functions found across computer applications that kids will encounter as they grow older.
DreamBox Learning K-2 Math, DreamBox Learning, 2009; $12.95/month; www.dreambox.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Web browser and Flash. This site helps young elementary school kids with basic computational skills, conceptual understanding and problem-solving. Activities are aligned to grade-level standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Adapts to child's progress and achievement; great for kids who demonstrate advanced aptitude and need more stimulation, as well as for kids who are struggling.
TikatokTM, Tikatok, 2007; around $20 for printed books, $2.99 for eBooks, free for online creativity; www.tikatok.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Web browser and Flash. Kids write, illustrate and publish their own books. Digital tools guide them through the process, and kids can share their books online with other Tikatok members or order printed hard- or soft-cover editions. A terrific way to inspire and motivate kids to write.
For Tweens & Up
Active LifeTM: Extreme Challenge, NAMCO BANDAI Games America, 2009; $59.99; www.namcobandaigames.com; ages 9 to 11. Requires: Wii console. Like Dance Dance Revolution, Extreme Challenges promotes vigorous activity using the Wii, including running, jumping and climbing through such "extreme sports" as wakeboarding, rock climbing, base jumping and jump roping. Our kid testers had a blast.
Boom Blox Bash Party, Electronic Arts, 2009; $39.99; http://boomblox.ea.com; ages 9 and up. Requires: Wii console. The second version of the wildly successful Boom Blox game for Wii, developed by Steven Spielberg. With more than 400 new levels, players pick up and toss cute and cuddly characters to knock down even more blox structures. Hours of party fun!
Dizzywood, Rocket Paper Scissors, 2007; free with optional monthly subscription $4.95-$9.95; www.dizzywood.com; ages 10-12. Requires: Web browser and Flash. A virtual online community with a thoughtfully designed world that enables kids to build confidence and express themselves in a healthy, positive way. Mini-games encourage reading and vocabulary development, and online events inspire kids around civics and environmental topics.
SmartyCard, Gazillion Inc., 2009; $6.95/month to $39.95/six months; www.smartycard.com; ages 7 to 11. Requires: Web browser and Flash. A terrific supplemental learning site where kids complete games and activities, earning points that can be redeemed for rewards. Activities are designed by education experts to support reading, math, science and social studies learning. Parents can track their child's progress and achievement online.
For Tweens & Teens
Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits, Activision, 2009; $49.99; www.activision.com; ages 12 to 14. Requires: Nintendo DS and DS cartridge attachment with special keys (Guitar Grip). This little gem recreates the fun of the popular console game on Nintendo's handheld. Players master fan requests with popular tracks, such as "Dimension," "Violet Hill" and "Unconditional," plus 25 others. A kid tester favorite!
SporeTM Galactic Adventure, Maxis/Electronic Arts, 2009; $29.99; www.spore.com; ages 12 to 14. Requires: Web browser and valid EA Spore account. Expands the Spore universe, in which players create and evolve their own creatures, and lets players beam down to exciting new worlds. Players can create their own customized game experiences with the "Adventure Creator," with almost limitless characters, settings, music and sound effects.
Science Buddies, Science Buddies, 2001; free; www.sciencebuddies.org; ages 5 to 18. Requires: Web browser and Flash. Designed to complement classroom instruction, this site inspires students to explore and try experiments in astronomy, biotechnology, music, physics, energy and power, environmental engineering, and other areas. The science fair "Topic Selection Wizard" asks students to share information about their interests and strengths before offering a slate of possible project ideas.
Zoodles, Inquisitive Minds Inc., 2009; free (premium memberships start at $7.95/month); www.zoodles.com; ages 2 to 8. A child-friendly browser with educational content and controls that let parents set and monitor their children's online experiences. Also includes a virtual toy box with online games, and content from sites recommended by schools, including FunBrain.
Meet Our Judges
Toys & Games - Ellen Metrick has more than 20 years experience in the toy industry. As the toy specialist and manager of business development for the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit focusing on accessible play for children of all abilities, she promotes the development and evaluation of high-quality toys. NAPPA's judge for board and card games, Peggy Brown, has worked for many of the worlds' biggest toy companies as an inventor, designer, writer, creative director and consultant. She has done creative development for hundreds of games and written children's books that promote curiosity and creativity.
DVDs - Ranny Levy, the founder and president of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media/KIDS FIRST!, has advocated for quality children's media since 1989. KIDS FIRST! evaluates, rates and reviews children's programming and produces the traveling KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals which are hosted locally in more than 150 venues worldwide. Additional judges for 2009 include Chris Pollock and Sandra Trittin.
Storytelling & Spoken-Word - Marilyn McPhie has been a professional storyteller for more than 20 years. She is a state liaison for the National Storytelling Network and has presented at national and regional conferences. She writes about storytelling resources and performs for audiences ranging from preschoolers to adults. Find out more at www.marilynmcphie.com.
Books & Magazines - Helen Foster James, Ed.D., is a lecturer at San Diego State University and former coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education. She's the author of S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet. Kathleen Krull has reviewed children's literature for parenting magazines across the country for nearly a decade. She is the author of the "Lives of ..." series and other books for young readers.
Music - John Wood brings more than 30 years of expertise to his reviews of children's music, which appear in parenting magazines across the country and on Kidzmusic.com. He has also performed more than 8,000 shows with his children's group, J.P. Nightingale. In the last two decades, Tor Hyams has composed film and television scores, produced world-class recording artists and live music festivals for children, launched the Happiness Records family music label, and wrote and produced a NAPPA-winning children's CD.
Software, Web Sites & Video Games - Alex Chisholm is a media research and development consultant who most recently created the games for iCue with NBC News and produced Generation Cures at Children's Hospital Boston. He's a founding member of the Learning Games Network, a nonprofit organization that supports innovation in the use of games for learning.