Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

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Holiday Gift Picks: $50 & Under

Super Mario 3D Land Super Mario 3D Land
Ages: All Ages
Nintendo of America, $39.99

As long as there has been Nintendo, there has been Mario. Super Mario 3D Land is a clear demonstration of why that is the case. The game features classic characters such as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad and Bowser in a familiar side-scrolling format that can be played either in 2D or 3D via a sliding control on the 3DS console. Players navigate through eight worlds of increasing difficulty by running, climbing and jumping through a variety of enemies and obstacles. The game play is as simple and easy to learn as it is entertaining and downright addictive.

Cozy Coupe Shopping Cart Cozy Coupe Shopping Cart
Ages: 1 - 5 yrs.
MGA Entertainment, Inc., $34.99

The Cozy Coupe shopping cart lets children pretend to shop while their favorite toys sit in the car's seat. It's a charming toy with a smile at its front that lets kids pretend to go food shopping just like their moms and dads do.

Large Zoo Large Zoo
Ages: 1 & Up
Playmobil USA, Inc., $44.99

The Large Zoo, a terrific introductory set for young children beginning to explore pretend play, requires no assembly; the detailed pieces are well-scaled and sturdy for little hands. The set includes a variety of colorful zoo animals: an elephant, a horse, and a zebra. Zoo visitors include a mommy and baby in her stroller, a tourist with camera, a zoo keeper and zoo scenery are included. There is a perch for a bird, and special notched spacing on the treetops for the bird or the monkey. The horse includes a saddle on which the figurines can sit; the "food" pieces can be delivered by tractor to the pens.

Jr. Space Explorer Inflatable Space Shuttle Jr. Space Explorer Inflatable Space Shuttle
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
Aeromax Inc., $34.95

The Jr. Space Explorer Inflatable Space Shuttle is a welcome addition to our growing collection of toys that encourage pretend play. It's different from similar toys because of its size. When fully inflated it feels like a full-size space shuttle to 3- and 4-year-olds. And although we have not used it in a pool as the box advertises, it has provided a lot of fun for indoor pretend play. Preschool age kids will enjoy "blasting off on space missions" daily.

Naturebag Naturebag
Ages: 3 - 12 yrs.
Naturebag Eco-Activities Ltd, $34.99

This all-in-one kit is packed inside an organic cotton shoulder bag filled with eco-friendly items designed to help children explore nature through a variety of sensory activities. Open the bag to find tools such as recycled cardboard leaf viewers, a rubber wood magnifying glass, soy-based crayons, hemp twine and organic cotton blindfolds. The 19-page booklet provides detailed instructions for more than 15 activities that teach children to observe nature through sight, sound and texture using the tools provided.

Automoblox - Minis 3-pack Automoblox - Minis 3-pack
Ages: 3 & Up
Manhattan Toy, $30.00

Automoblox Minis are a three pack of modernly designed small wooden vehicles; a sedan, sports car, and truck. The wheels, tires, and roofs are all interchangeable. Little hands can easily manipulate the car parts on their own. After weeks of endless play, the mini cars haven't scratched the furniture, which is always a plus at Grandma's house. Our young testers revamped, reorganized and rearranged the car parts, their functions and their owners. Well crafted and non toxic, this set of minis gives a maxi return on play.

CitiBlocs Skyline 200 Piece Hot & Cool Colors CitiBlocs Skyline 200 Piece Hot & Cool Colors
Ages: 3 & Up
CitiBlocs, LLC, $43.99

A hip American edition of the beloved Kapla Blocs, the 200 piece colorful Citiblocs sets are, depending on your perspective or vernacular, a cool, or hot, updated and eco-friendly (New Zealand Radiata Pine) version of a treasured building toy. Start by creating low and wide structures (horse corrals or Frank Lloyd Wright homes) and move on to skyscrapers in Singapore or Dubai. Young builder testers created pens to pretend to bathe oil soaked brown pelicans, and structures hopeful of a nod from I.M Pei.

FolkMonsters FolkMonsters
Ages: 3 & Up
Folkmanis, Inc., $33.99

These two new and unusual puppet creations are enormously inviting in their design and construction. Why we like it: Both Twickety and Blueper will motivate children to compose original and creative stories to tell to their friends and family members (if they can get these puppets away from the adults long enough to do so).

Play-Doh Mega Fun Factory Play-Doh Mega Fun Factory
Ages: 3 & Up
Hasbro, Inc., $29.99

Play-Doh Mega Fun Factory comes with a conveyor belt and six cans of Play-Doh. The belt is battery operated and has two different wheels. One wheel has different candy shapes on it and the other has animal shapes. As the Play-Doh comes down the belt, you push the wheel into the Play-Doh to make each shape. Once made, the objects can be used for imaginary play. Storage is easy, as the conveyor belt holds six cans of Play-Doh. Though not a must have, this is a fun and wholesome toy that children will enjoy.

Kid Pix Deluxe 3D Kid Pix Deluxe 3D
Ages: 4 & Up
Software MacKiev,

Kid Pix Deluxe 3D does not disappoint with its amazing array of creativity tools. The 3D appears in many ways. Some of the paint tools have lighting effects to look as though paint has been smeared or squeezed right out of the tube. There are now 3D backgrounds with 3D characters and animations, including insects, space, transportation and sports to put in the scenes. Animated compositions can be saved with stereo 3D effects, viewable with the provided 3D glasses. While the effect isn't perfect, kids are sure to feel proud of their 3D movies.

Kinect Rush: A Disney*Pixar Adventure Kinect Rush: A Disney*Pixar Adventure
Ages: 6 & Up
Microsoft Studios, $49.99

Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure lets players dive directly into five of Disney Pixar's most popular feature-length animated films-The Incredibles, Toy Story, Up!, Ratatouille and Cars. While the depth of gaming inside each movie's game isn't what it would be if the video game drew from a single film, younger kids will appreciate the huge, high quality variety of play from this disc.

K'NEX Mario Kart Wii: Mario vs. Goombas K'NEX Mario Kart Wii: Mario vs. Goombas
Ages: 6 & Up
KNEX Brands, $29.99

If you have children who are admittedly and hopelessly addicted to video games, this K'Nex set is what you want to purchase to get them away from the television or DS. Sometimes I will do anything to get my boys' faces out of video games, and this is just the distraction they need. They have been known to pretend to be in video games while riding their bikes or even eating lunch, so this set actually gives them the visuals they need to perfect their make-believe Mario world.

OgoBild Nexus OgoBild Nexus
Ages: 6 & Up
OgoSport LLC, $29.99

OgoBuild makes it easy for kids to concoct inventive creatures, sculptures or whatever other wacky contraptions they can think of using durable plastic parts. Shapes in this set include a bouncy spiral, orbs, silly hands and feet, paddle-like parts and a number of connectors. Pieces attach by locking into place using a ball and joint mechanism that is easy for small hands to manipulate. For additional creativity, children can place the reusable stickers on their objects giving them eyes, mouths or other designs.

Pathagon Pathagon
Ages: 6 & Up
Maranda Enterprises, $29.99

Pathagon is a two-player strategy game in which players attempt to complete a path of octagonal tiles from one side of the square board to the other. As the paths must cross at some point, only one can successfully reach completion. Players can trap an opponent's tile and have it removed from the board, and when players run out of tiles to place and tiles start getting rearranged play becomes especially challenging. It is easy to overlook potential traps, and enthusiasm for defensive play may leave open pathways unguarded. Even players as young as 6 can grasp the strategy and play competitively, so even wide age disparities can lead to fun and interesting match-ups.

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure
Ages: 7 & Up
Author: Matthew Reinhart  
Scholastic, $36.99 (Hard Cover)   

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure is a fantastic book for anyone even remotely interested in the Star Wars chronicles, or the fun and art of pop-up books in general. It's filled with dazzling treats on every page - including a real glowing lightsaber. While Reinhart's first Star Wars pop-up book focused on the three original Star Wars movies, this book covers the characters and storylines of the three prequels plus the Clone Wars. The art takes center stage but the narrative is engaging, too. Heroes, villains, plots and subplots of the Star Wars saga are covered in-depth.

4D Cityscape Time Puzzle 4D Cityscape Time Puzzle
Ages: 8 & Up
4D Cityscape Inc., $39.99

If you love jigsaw puzzles, you'll probably love 4D Cityscape's 3D city puzzles like this one of New York City. Or maybe you just love New York, in which case you might love this, too. Following the "map" for piecing this urban skyscape together, you start with laying out the base for the entire city-pretty much a traditional jigsaw puzzle with pieces made of firm compressed foam. Same for the second layer, which is the island of Manhattan. From there, you position more than 125 of the Big Apple's most famous buildings and landmarks according to a timeline poster so that the process of creating this 4D tabletop replica of New York City is historical and chronological, lending to this fun and challenging 700-piece puzzle an impressive educational value.

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