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

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Holiday Gift Picks: Gift Bundles

We at Parents' Choice are lucky enough to see terrific products of all kinds year-round. The award-winning items highlighted below are just great on their own, but when grouped together with complementary selections, these bundles allow children to further explore their interests in all aspects of learning and play. From books to toys to digital apps, these picks are guaranteed to please.

My Child Might Be a Future: Farmer (Ages 3 & Up) Creative Writer (Ages 7 & Up)
  Musician (Ages 3 & Up) Space Ranger (Ages 7 & Up)
  Fine Artist (Ages 4 & Up) Fashion Designer (Ages 9 & Up)
  Doctor/Dentist (Ages 5 & Up) Architect (Ages 10 & Up)
  Environmentalist (Ages 5 & Up)  

Ages 3 & Up

Rooster PuppetRooster Puppet
Ages: 3 & Up, $39.99

Get a wake-up call in your family by letting the children shout a loud "Cock-a-doodle-doo" and blame it on this beautiful Folkmanis puppet. Realistic in many ways, this soft creature is adorned with honey spurs, a bright red comb, and convincing "feathers." The hand opening also allows one finger to be inserted into the lower half of the beak for "conversation," cackling, or both. This puppet may be used with a variety of children's books, such as Eric Carle's Rooster's Off to See the World or Amy Poole's How the Rooster Got His Crown. Included with the puppet is an attachment offering facts of interest and a brief story about a rooster.

Life-Size FarmLife-Size Farm
Ages: 3 & Up, $18.95 (Hard Cover)

With informative facts and fun illustrations accompanying the superlative photographs that depict the animals at features in their actual life size (or at least as much of it that fits on the page!), Life-Size Farm brings readers eye to eye with an alpaca, chicken, dairy cow, donkey, duck, ferret, goose, horse, llama, pig, pony, goat, rabbit, sheep, turkey, and more!

String A FarmString A Farm
Ages: 3 & Up, $13.99

This delightful lacing toy contains 13 colorful wooden shapes (9 animals, a barn, a silo and a tractor) a lacing tip that's large and solid enough for young hands to grasp and feed into the suitably accessible holes in the doubled-sided whimsically painted animals and farm items. The pig, cow, rooster and more can follow an ever-changing trail from the barn at one end of the string, to the apple tree at the other. On the lacing path or off, there are many ways to play; the stories - and learning - are field trips in the making.

Barnyard Dance!Digital Bonus: Barnyard Dance!
Ages: 4 & Up, $3.99

Fans of Sandra Boynton's board books will not be disappointed by this app.The app features incredibly smart design and a smooth look and feel, right down to the sound effect of the turning page. Testers felt as if they were actually reading the original board book. The app is familiar, fun, and interactive, though it does not offer much in the way of educational value (beyond the reading and word recognition elements, of course). Still, it's a colorful, engaging, and creative way of "reading" for a three-year-old, and it is something a preschooler can easily peruse on his own comfortably and confidently without much assistance from an adult.

Ages 3 & Up

Symphony in B.Symphony in B.
Ages: 3 - 13, $49.99

One of the most innovative electronic toys we've seen in quite a while, the Symphony in B. is an ongoing concert of learning. The centerpiece of the toy is the orchestra pit where six of the 13 instruments can be played simultaneously. The instruments themselves - clarinet, flute, tuba, trumpet, xylophone, drums, cymbals, piano, accordion, koto, guitar, violin and sitar - encircle the pit and wait to be called upon to perform. Each instrument is recognizable by design as well as color and has a specifically contoured base that fits into a shape-sorter cum charging station. There are lights that teach the sections of an orchestra and identify which instruments are in those sections: strings, keyboards, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. The sound quality is clear and strong, making it easy to differentiate one instrument from the other.

A Jazzy DayA Jazzy Day
Ages: 3 - 8, $2.99

This is a terrific interactive book app that teaches children about jazz by introducing them to all of the different instruments in a jazz band and how they sound. As each instrument is introduced, children hear how it sounds. Children can click on the keys of a vibraphone, for example, to hear its different tones. Or they can play an alto sax, a tenor sax and a baritone sax, one after the other, to get a sense of the different sounds that each of the saxophones produces. At the end of the book, the instruments all come together to form the "big band" and readers can listen to how the instruments play off of each other.

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp!Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Ages: 4 - 7 yrs, $15.99

Reader follow young Marsalis through his day as he describes the variety of sounds he experiences. The book begs to be read aloud, but that does not mean its illustrations are an afterthought. Illustrator Paul Rogers skillfully interprets the sounds featured throughout the book, and he inventively brings them to life through drawing and typography. From buttering toast to scratching an itch, Marsalis finds music (and magic) in everyday sounds. Bravo, once again, to this duo of keen observers.

Fine Artists
Ages 4 & Up

Picasso, That's Who!Picasso, That's Who! (And So Can You!)
Ages: 3 - 10 yrs., $15.00

Hope Harris, a veteran of the professional musical stage presents a smart and tuneful visit to the world of art and creativity inspired by Jackson Pollock, Picasso, David Hockney, Grandma Moses, Alexander Calder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Klee, Romare Bearden, Matisse, and Monet. Harris' resonant lyrics deftly observe the artists' diverse works, tell a story, and encourage listeners' own creative efforts.

Art-to-GoArt-To-Go Deluxe
Ages: 3 & Up, $14.99

The Art-To-Go Deluxe kit is a wise choice for any child ready to advance his or her artistic techniques beyond the limitations of markers and construction paper. The set's high quality colored pencils, watercolors, oil pastels, and marker pens will impress your future art star. Little details like a wood, not plastic, handle on the watercolor paintbrush make small hands feel grown up. Best of all, these supplies fit neatly into a compact travel case. Creating landscapes in the park and still life paintings at Grandma's has never been easier.

Sky ColorSky Color
Ages: 5 & Up, $14.00

What color is the sky? If you answered "blue," then Sky Color will open your eyes and mind to the myriad possibilities beyond basic blue. In this story by the author of Ish and The Dot, Peter H. Reynolds once again challenges his readers to expand their creative horizons. A sky can be so much more than one familiar shade-think golden sunsets, gray storms, or rosy dawns. This is a wonderful book to share with young artists or anyone looking to think more creatively.

Ages 5 & Up

Tag Human Body Discovery PackTag Human Body Discovery Pack
Ages: 4 - 9, $19.99

This terrific set introduces children to the parts of our body, how the different systems in our body function (digestive, nervous, muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems) and how to make good choices about health and nutrition. Using the Tag interactive pen (sold separately), children can explore the fold-out chart and game board to learn all about our bodies through read-aloud narrative or interactive games.

I Feel Better With a Frog In My ThroatI Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat
Ages: 6 - 9 yrs., $17.00

Carlyn Beccia's nonfiction picture book is an eye-opening look at "history's strangest cures" for a number of common ailments. We learn, for example, that having a cold in sixteenth-century England might have meant taking a dose of "puke weed," and that drinking urine was a typical prescription for curing stomachaches. The text is a combination of science and history with a gross-out factor that will appeal to children. Beccia's book is interactive. She first asks readers to guess which treatments might have actually worked, and then she reveals the truth about each one. Surprisingly, there is factual evidence that some strange-sounding cures actually worked. This is an interesting and fun book that appeals even beyond the publisher's recommended age group.

Doctor De SotoDoctor De Soto
Ages: 3 - 8 yrs, $9.99

William Steig's children's picture book Doctor De Soto is now available in a charming audio version. In the story, two mice run a dental practice that treats all sorts of animals-except cats and other creatures that prove a threat to small rodents. Doctor De Soto reconsiders his policy, however, and takes on a fox as a new emergency patient. The De Sotos have some reservations about this new patient, and wonder how much they can trust him, but Doctor De Soto is determined to at least finish the dental procedure. Steig's text is full of humor, which is echoed in the illustrations in the book that accompanies the CD. Award-winning actor Stanley Tucci makes a fine narrator with his rich, clear voice. There are two tracks on the CD: one simply for listening and one with cues to follow along with the book. This is a fun way to enjoy a classic story.

Ages 5 & Up

The Camping Trip that Changed AmericaThe Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, And Our National Parks
Ages: 5 - 8, $16.99

Inspired by reading one of John Muir's books about the wilderness, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote Muir and asked him to take him camping in the Yosemite wilderness. Traveling west by train, Roosevelt arrived in Raymond, California on May 15, 1903. Finally leaving an adoring crowd, "Teedie" and "Johnnie" rode off on horseback alone. They spent four days camping, forging a friendship through their mutual love of nature. Johnnie was the teacher, showing the president the giant sequoias and explaining how Yosemite Valley was formed. He taught Teedie how vulnerable the wilderness areas were and inspired him to return to Washington determined to help protect them.

Ages: 3 - 12 yrs., $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.

Ranger Rick MagazineRanger Rick Magazine
Ages: 7 & Up, $19.95 (Subscription Price)

Each issue of Ranger Rick is packed with fascinating facts, world-class wildlife photos, the kinds of outdoor and animal stories that change a child's appreciation for and relationship with nature. Published by the National Wildlife Federation, the nation's largest conservation organization, the magazine doesn't hesitate to include an environmentalist message without getting preachy. Any kid who's gaga for wildlife will probably cherish this magazine, and refuse to throw out any back issues. And anyone else, including parents, will enjoy the wealth of animal life in its pages.

Space Rangers
Ages 7 & Up

Hyperspeed PursuitHyperspeed Pursuit
Ages: 6 & Up, $69.99

Hyperspeed Pursuit is an imaginative, intergalactic cops and robbers building set in the Space Police line of Lego products. The set consists of 456 building pieces to make a large police cruiser vehicle and a black alien "hot rod" that has two launching missiles (that shoot 6-8 feet) to attack the police cruiser and release the prisoner. Two instruction books show detailed step-by-step instructions to build each impressive action toy. Creepy-looking aliens can be captured and placed in holding cells pods on the police ship; a label on the pod warns that it may contain an alien atmosphere. But wait...the alien vessel shoots a missile at the pod release and the alien escapes. And the adventure continues.

E-Rangers' HeadquartersE-Rangers' Headquarters
Ages: 7 - 12 yrs., $129.99

The Future Planet E-Rangers Headquarters by Playmobil is a super fun base with all of the usual high-design Playmobil appeal. It comes with 5 figures and a small vehicle for them to drive. The base itself is interactive, featuring cool opening doors and a well thought out "skylight" design that lets you see inside the base when you're not playing with it. It even features a working solar panel that makes a small fan blow. As imaginative as the product is, in a lot of ways its elements are inspired by actual technology. In all, the toy is hands down fun, interesting, and just plain cool.

Star WarsStar Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure
Ages: 7 & Up, $36.99

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.

Creative Writers
Ages 7 & Up

Book CreatorBook Creator for iPad
Ages: 5 - 18 yrs., $4.99

First things first: Book Creator is not just for children. In fact, it is a professional-level iBook creation app that many will appreciate. Its possibilities are limitless. It is easy to add and position text and illustrations to each page, and recording sound to accompany each page is very simple. Once finished, the app offers support for submitting your book to Apple's store. If you don't want to do that, you can choose to open your book in iBooks, or upload it to Dropbox or another cloud storage option.

Show; Don't Tell!Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing
Ages: 7 - 12 yrs., $22.95

Josephine Nobisso explains how writers of any age can create vivid images and activity in their words. The book uses warm and whimsical paintings from Eva Montanari to create a clever lion character who leads children on a fantastical lesson in written storytelling. Words twist and turn, look big and small, long and wide in ways that keep young readers interested in the language art they are being taught. The key to Nobisso's text is an energetic explanation of how people need to use their imaginations to choose words carefully. More specifically, the book details how to use the five senses – plus intuition – to create a tale that shows a reader what's inside a writer's mind. Following the playful explanations of the senses and grammar Nobisso takes the children though a step-by-step process of writing a story.

Rory's Story CubesRory's Story Cubes - Actions
Ages: 8 & Up, $7.99

These Actions cubes can be used on their own to play multiple variations of a Story Cubes game or combined with other Story Cubes sets. The set contains 9 dice illustrated with a different action on each side of the cube, offering 54 different verbs to play with. Players roll the dice and use them to create stories based on the actions that appear. Players may take turns adding on the story, ultimately making things up as they go along which often leads to hilarious tales. Although this is one suggested way to play, players can also play a solitaire version of the game or come up with their own ways of weaving stories with other players.

Fashion Designers
Ages 9 & Up

Fashion FormsFashion Forms
Ages: 8 & Up, $24.99

For emerging fashionistas, April Chorba has created a new craft obsession: miniature couture. Bringing the world of design into three dimensions, this kit contains everything you need to construct dozens of dresses, ball gowns, and matching accessories.Make the outfits pictured in the step-by-step instruction book, or mix-and-match to create your own unique styles. As fans have come to expect from Klutz, additional items such as sequins and satin ribbons add that special touch. Once finished, your paper fashions can be displayed on the included translucent dress stands for all to admire.

Your Friend in Fashion, Abby ShapiroYour Friend in Fashion, Abby Shapiro
Ages: 9 & Up, $17.95

It's 1959 in Massachusetts and sixth-grader Abby Shapiro desperately wants both a Barbie and a bra. In an entrepreneurial attempt to earn the money to buy them, she launches a fashion line and sets out to make Future First Lady Jackie Kennedy her first customer. There are some harsh realities in Abby's life, yet it's also an enviable one, full of colorful neighbors and relatives and rich heritage - an insightful peek at mid-century, middle-class Jewish life through the eyes of a spunky pre-teen girl.

Project RunwayProject Runway Fashion Design Light Box Set
Ages: 8 & Up, $24.99

This is a fun tie-in to the "Project Runway" TV show, giving wannabe fashion designers the full runway experience. Spin the wheel and find out your fashion challenge, then use the included pencils, stencils, pattern rubs, sequins, glitter and light box to create your look. When it's done, put your creation on the paper dolls to showcase it to the judges (or to Mom, friends or siblings if you can't find Michael Kors and Heidi Klum around). The kit also includes heat transfer sheets, allowing kids to iron their favorite design creations onto a tee shirt or bag. This is a great option for those who want to transfer their own style from the game world into real life.

Tie Dye DoodleDigital Bonus: Tie Dye Doodle
Ages: 5 & Up, $0.99

"Tie Dye Doodle" is a fun, creative activity. Players choose a shirt style (several types of T-shirts, tank tops, and plain fabric) and a style of tie-dye (traditional sunbursts and spirals, stripes, stars, hearts, even complicated happy faces and peace symbols). The app shows how to fold the shirt (they make it look easy--virtual T-shirts never get lumpy or tangled up) and then players can choose where to put rubber bands and how to apply the dye. Dye application is flexible. The app provides a wide range of colors to chose from to begin with, and then a near-infinite number of degrees of shading are allowed by how much dye the user puts in place. After the shirt is finished, players can add embellishments in the form of text, gems, and other appliques.

Ages 10 & Up

Design Dossier: ArchitectureDesign Dossier: Architecture
Ages: 10 & Up, $24.00

While most books on architecture focus on the buildings, not many focus on the people who design them or the process through which they are built. "Architecture for Kids" covers basic concepts like materials and construction, but goes deeper into what it takes to be an architect.Also included is a disc with a project the reader can construct as well as portfolio cards for some of the World's most renowned architects practicing today. The seven chapters add up to a well-rounded look at the profession and the process. Rather than dumbing it down, this book imparts a true, but fun, look at the design world. "Architecture for Kids" would be a wonderful introduction to any child who'd like to learn more about what it takes to be an architect.

3D Building Sets3D Building Sets (Eiffel Tower)
Ages: 10 & Up, $25.99

This 224-piece puzzle is a model of the Eiffel Tower. Unlike the foam-core 3D puzzles that are most popular, this puzzle is made of rigid plastic pieces that are numbered on one side and printed with the girders and structure of the Eiffel Tower on the other. It is assembled in an ordered manner by taking piece #1 and attaching piece #2 on the edge indicated by an arrow, then #3 is attached in the direction indicated on #2, etc. Corner pieces are hinged and bent before connecting to adjacent pieces. Assembly is completed in three sections which are then combined with special platform pieces and a base that is illustrated like the ground under the Eiffel Tower. The final structure is an attractive, 17.5 inch tall, life-like model of the Eiffel Tower. It is suitable for display on a shelf or can be disassembled and built again.

Built to LastBuilt To Last
Ages: 10 & Up, $24.99

Here is a great collection from the author of How Things Work. Three of MaCauley's books — Castle, Cathedral and Mosque — are combined with added text and illustrations. His lessons in architecture are made even more compelling with personal stories.



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