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The best toys for birthday gifts: our blog editor’s picks!

The best toys for birthday gifts: our blog editor’s picks!

Why yes, I do still have She-Ra's horse!

Why yes, I do still have She-Ra’s horse!

Is it just me, or have toys gotten so much cooler since we were kids? Sure, we have fond memories of our favorite licensed characters from Saturday morning TV shows, but the level of detail, quality, and clever design that goes into today’s toys is just mindblowing.

Since I’ve been in the toy biz for over ten years now, I naturally can’t help but dream about which of today’s toys would have thrilled me when I was little. And since today is my birthday, I’m going to be self-indulgent and talk up some of my personal favorites. Given that many of these are longtime bestsellers, I have a hunch that your creative little girl or boy will love them too.


THE coolest. Seriously.

THE coolest. Seriously.

Alex Deluxe Hair Chalk Salon, $22.99
Every little girl wanted to be Cyndi Lauper in 1984, and the key to her look was wildly-colored hair. ‘Nuff said.

Spot It!, $12.99
Even now, I love playing the sort of matching games where you have to find two identical items fast (and, embarrassingly enough, wind up playing a lot of them on my phone). This game makes the challenge competitive, the matching icons are delightfully random and silly, and who doesn’t love a game where everyone is shouting and groaning the whole time? You’re never too old for Spot It.

Goldieblox, $19.99 – $59.99
Combine cute dolls, adorable anthropomorphic animal pals, a compelling girl-power story, and construction-related problem-solving puzzles that end with the creation of a working contraption? Count me in! I’m also delighted by the fact that they decided to follow up the creation of their golden-haired Goldie action figure with a figure of computer expert Ruby Rails, giving African-American kids the opportunity to play with a little pal who looks like them.

Would I like more pink unicorns, you ask? But of COURSE.

You can never have too many unicorns.

Schleich figurines, $3.45 – $44.99
Everything from the tiny realistic animals to the mounted knights and fairies would have blown my mind as a kid – I loved creating my own elaborate villages of made-up characters and having them interact. The thoroughly open-ended nature of these toys gives kids the opportunity to really stretch their imagination. Plus, major kudos to Schleich for putting magnets in to keep the knights on their griffons, dragons, and horses, because having your knight fall off mid-gallop or mid-flight would have been a major bummer.

Squishables, $19.99 – $199.99

Ok, so every now and then I get to play with our toys for real – as in the intro to the 2012/2013 Magalog. These giant round plush creatures are super-cuddly and charming, and lend themselves to all sorts of flights of fancy. Plus, they make superb body pillows.

Real corgis will be accepted as gifts in lieu of Squishable corgis.

Real corgis will be accepted as gifts in lieu of Squishable corgis.

Also, there is a Squishable Corgi, and a Squishable Catbug. I think I may wind up buying these for real.

Telestrations, $29.99
Your family NEEDS this game, and please don’t worry about your artistic skills, because bad drawings make the game funnier! It’s a combination of Pictionary and Telephone: you take turns drawing words and phrases, and then guessing what other people’s drawings depict, and keep passing them around until everyone has written or drawn. The end result is always ludicrous and delightful for all ages. Every time I bring this out at a party, it’s a great time.

Pro tips: it’s more fun if you play noncompetitively, since scoring takes time out of drawing and guessing, and it’s also super fun to create your own clues instead of pulling them off the provided cards. Try starting with a family member’s name as a clue for maximum silliness!

calico critters custom

A few new employees at Magic Beans.

Calico Critters, $9.99 – $129.99
Similar to the Schleich figures, I would have had a ball creating personas, environments, and stories with these little cuties. They’re also really fun to customize, as demonstrated in the intro to the 2014 Holiday Magalog. Seriously, I can’t believe I get paid to do stuff like this.

More pro tips: their clothing is interchangeable among all Critters of the same size, so mixing and matching is great fun, but just make sure you store all of their tiny accessories and wardrobe pieces in one container! I used a cookie tin to keep it all contained. Also: permanent marker and small stickers are great for adding little accessories to your Critters (just make sure the kids understand that the marker doesn’t come off).

Desk toys: a Schleich dino, a slightly-damaged Beanie Boo, a Plan fidget toy, a Playmobil kangaroo, and B-MO.

Desk toys: a Schleich dino, a slightly-damaged Beanie Boo, a Plan fidget toy, a Playmobil kangaroo, and B-MO.

Janod Kubix Geometrix Blocks, $29.99
Imagine using these gorgeous, weird blocks to create an environment for Calico Critters or other dolls or figurines? The mind boggles.

Flower Crowns, $14.99
For my middle-school-era Tolkien stage: elf princesses should always wear crowns of flowers. And unlike the ones we made with dandelions as kids, these are endlessly reusable.

LoopDeLoom Spinning Weaving Loom, $29.99
This loom makes REAL cloth! I loved crafts and had a very long attention span as a kid, and I can picture hours whiled away listening to the radio and making myself scarves, cuffs, and headbands (and perhaps some elegant tube dresses for my Barbies, or decorative blankets to throw over my Breyer horses).

Joylabz Makey Makey, $49.99
There’s not much to say about this toy that we haven’t already said: it enables you to use literally any item in your home that can carry even a faint electrical charge as a computer controller (mouse, keyboard, etc), usually using them to create sound in a thrilling and theatrical way. The possibilities are absolutely endless, and I would have whiled away endless hours experimenting with conductive paint, modeling clay, blocks, figurines, and more. (And yes, we’ve spitballed many ideas here in the office as to which products we sell would make good demo items in conjunction with Makey Makey: just imagine the wacky piano you could make with Crazy Aaron’s Putty!)

LEGO Friends Dolphin Cruiser, $69.99
Build it, customize it, and then create stories with your cute little minifigure pals. Someone’s gonna spend a lot of time swimming with the dolphins, while someone else is going to get thrown off the boat repeatedly in reality-show-style dramatic situations. I probably would have brought in the rest of my LEGO collection and built it taller, and then brought in all the similar-sized figurines in my collection to join in the party. Ah, a girl can dream…


Which toys in this list do you think your kids would like best? Do you see anything on the list that would have inspired you as a child? Let us know in the comments below!


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