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Holiday Gift Picks: $100 & Under

Cory Caterpillar - Pulling Animal Cory Caterpillar - Pulling Animal
Ages: 1 & Up
Haba , $55.00

This wooden caterpillar pull toy offers simple fun for infants and toddlers. Unlike other pull toys, this cleverly designed caterpillar refuses to topple and be dragged on its side. Cory stays upright and moving forward. Cute and colorful, this toy features six big "legs" that roll along and make a jingling sound when pulled by the string. The pleasant sounds and big smile may just inspire a few new crawlers and walkers.

Servin’ Surprises™ Kitchen & Table Servin’ Surprises™ Kitchen & Table
Ages: 2 & Up
Fisher-Price, $80.00

The Servin' Surprises Kitchen & Table is a great combination of two classic toddler toys. The toy is both a play kitchen and a kids' table for crafting or eating. Unlike traditional "cabinet" style play kitchens that are placed along a wall, this one takes the form of an island, as it is built into a round table shape. There are burners, an oven, food, trays, and toy silverware. Playing with this food is a lot of fun, and young children had a great time putting it in and out of the oven and passing out slices of pizza and cookies to the whole family.

16 16" Original Big Wheel
Ages: 3 - 8 yrs.
Kids Only, Inc., $59.99

Parents of young speed demons, and especially ones between ages 3 and 5, will find the 16" Original Big Wheel to be a great outdoor ride-on toy. Testers said the bike was easy to pedal and steer, giving children full control over where they ride. In addition, child testers were thrilled that that they were able to go much faster on the Big Wheel than they can on regular bicycles. While this new speed might sound nerve-wracking, one parent tester said that she "feel[s] much safer having [my boys] tackle the hills in our neighborhood on the Big Wheel because they are so low to the ground."

LeapPad2 LeapPad2
Ages: 3 - 9 yrs.
Leapfrog Enterprises, Inc , $99.99

The LeapPad 2 Explorer can handle three separate profiles (preschool to grade 6), has 4GB memory and is compatible with LeapFrog Explorer cartridges and the LeapFrog App Center for digital content. New this year is the additional camera-one on the front and one on the back of the tablet-and a video camera. The design is similar to the previous LeapPad, but the start up and response times are improved. Pre-reader testers as young as four have been able to navigate the Leap Pad 2 with ease.

American Doll Room American Doll Room
Ages: 3 & Up
The American Doll Room Company, LLC, $89.00

A different twist on a doll house, the "no assembly required" American Doll Room is a large 2-sided cardboard house that promotes play in an interior room and on the patio. Begin on by customizing the interior paint from choices of pink, purple, raspberry, tangerine, or aqua. Although the oak floors look great, and the white molding and baseboard trim look freshly painted, you'll be prompted to select a teal, white, light pink, or purple shag carpet color; you never know when a redecorating urge may strike.

Foozeball Foozeball
Ages: 3 & Up
PlanToys, Inc., $70.00

PlanToys Foosball is a wooden foosball soccer tabletop game for two players. The wooden game "stadium" has rubber strips on the bottom to keep it from slipping and scratching surfaces. Place it on a kitchen counter or coffee table and watch as then competition heats up. Well designed and made for little hands to grasp and manipulate, the game is easily moved from country to country (room to room) for the international finals.

SmartMax Stunt SmartMax Stunt
Ages: 3 & Up

The SmartMax Magnetic Discovery set might seem too pricey. However, after opening it up and watching my children play with it, the price seems justified. The packaging is creative and inviting, the parts are solid and easy enough to manipulate that a toddler can have as much fun creating a simple shape as a pre-schooler or older child can making a complex 3d shape. The full color instruction manual helped me deliver a basic lesson on magnetism to my boys. The manual then gives full color photos for shapes that can be copied by kids at each developmental level.

Leapster Explorer Leapster Explorer
Ages: 4 - 7 yrs.
Leapfrog Enterprises, Inc , $69.99

Leapster Explorer is the newest LeapFrog gaming system built for games, e-Books, videos, and online play. It offers over forty games and activities, including downloadable learning apps and a camera/video recorder. Play can carry into the LeapWorld virtual learning platform. Parents can follow their child's play and learning progress on the LeapFrog Learning Path.

Take Along Soccer Match Take Along Soccer Match
Ages: 5 - 10 yrs.
Playmobil USA, Inc., $59.99

Playmobil's Take Along Soccer Match that includes four soccer players, two goalies, two balls, and a portable 22 x 33 inch playing field. The goalies attach to the goals via a joystick mechanism. Except for the clear and easy to follow setup instructions, there were no instructions for how to play with the set, giving maximum flexibility to kids. This flexibility is perhaps the greatest strength of this set: it is familiar enough that any kid knows how to get started, but open ended enough to encourage kids to devise their own ways to play. Even children who had never played soccer still enjoyed moving the characters around to 'kick' the ball into the net.

Lego City Forest Police Station Lego City Forest Police Station
Ages: 6 - 12 yrs.
The LEGO Group, $79.99

In this terrific LEGO set, the scenes (a forest police station with 3 police officers, a crook, a bear, and other fun aspects) encourage imaginative play rather than the reenacting of a familiar storyline. No guns or other types of weapons are included. Testers role-played good-guy, bad-guy, and the set prompted many discussions about what police officers do when they find a bad guy, and how to handle the situation. Each building, character or mini-environment is bagged separately, with its own set of instructions,

Illumivor Mecha-Shark Illumivor Mecha-Shark
Ages: 6 & Up
Skyrocket Toys, $89.99

The Illumivor Mecha-Shark is an 18-inch long remote-controlled shark. The shark is trimmed with glowing lights along its fins and teeth, making it especially impressive in dark rooms. Neither children nor parents will be able to resist playing with the loud, large, and impressive toy. Use its remote to steer the toy and activate its glowing, gnashing teeth. As the toy is sturdy and heavy, those with fragile or low-to-the-ground furniture may wish to bring it outside while becoming used to the controls, as bumps will occur.

Ages: 6 & Up
Geospace International, $59.99

Toys need not be an entirely new concept to be fun. Many classic games and toys are making a comeback because of their simplicity and the wholesome fun they provide. Walkaroo Extreme Stilts are a new take on an old favorite. These adjustable steel stilts feature S-shaped, foam-covered shoulder rests, foam handles, non-slip foot rests and rubber feet for added stability. Walking on stilts is excellent physical exercise that promotes balance, coordination and gross motor skills.

My American Girl Doll My American Girl Doll
Ages: 8 & Up
American Girl, $95.00

There are no better play dolls on the market today than American Girl dolls. Constructed to the highest standards, the dolls are both beautiful and durable. Both the historical and contemporary dolls are available in a wide range of skin colors, hair colors, and other features. The new My American Girl doll is no exception, and parents can expect their daughters to find the same appeal and play value in her as in previous versions of the doll. My American Girl adds a new twist: Innerstar U., an online world exclusively for My American Girl doll owners, in which girls are represented by avatars of their dolls and can explore a campus full of computer game activities for preteens.

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