Mamanista! » Hottest Holiday Toys of 2008

Hottest Holiday Toys of 2008

Here are some of our favorite Hottest Holiday Toys for 2008. We’ve included the deluxe and the moderately priced, the indie handmade and the mass-produced, and some new toys mixed with old classics.

Inspections are up and recalls are down, but we are still vigilant, preferring to shop at Retailers of Safe, Non-Toxic, Lead-Free Toys and Gifts. Check out our Tips for Choosing Safe Toys. And don’t forget to check out our 12 Days of Giveaways. If you would like up to two extra entries to our 12 Days of Giveaways, just scroll down or click here for instructions.

Creative Pretend Play

Play tents create special spaces for their little occupants. My mom used to toss a sheet over two chairs and this simple cave miraculously transformed into whatever I could imagine. If you are looking for something more substantial, your little one will love the Gigatent Fantasy Palace Play Tent (Amazon – $48). Another favorite is Le Cafe ( KB Toys– $40). Castle Tent
At the top of my preschooler’s wish list this Holiday is a kitchen set. I love the slick, vintage look of the KidKraft Red Retro Kitchen (Amazon – $132).
Another fully-loaded wood kitchen is the Little Tikes Deluxe Wooden Kitchen and Laundry Center (Amazon – $188).Little Tikes makes plastic kitchens in the USA, including the Cook and Learn Kitchen (Amazon – $111), which leads kids through recipes, the Inside/Outside Cook ‘n Grill Kitchen (Little Tikes – $150), and the Prep and Serve Kitchen (Amazon – $99), with a breakfast counter.
kidkraft retro kitchen
And while we’re in the kitchen, how about whipping up some tasty treats? We love the new, updated version of the Easy Bake Oven with a fun, aqua, retro look! Why do our kid’s appliances look better than ours?We were also impressed with the Jakks Pacific Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker (Amazon – $30) –although we’d like to point out that boys (and men) can (and should) bake cupcakes, too. Easy Bake Oven
The Learning Tower from Little Partners (Sugarplum Dreams – $200) literally brings your tot to another level…counter top level. From that vantage point, your kiddo can help cook and play at the sink. With accessories, you can turn the Learning Tower into a play house, puppet theater, or chalkboard. Learning Tower
Set up shop with this Wooden Cash Register (Magic Cabin – $65), which rings when you open it and encourages young children to practice arithmetic. icon
The Imagination Box Cottage (Wild Dill – $20) is an 18 inch high doll-sized playhouse your child can decorate by herself or with friends with eight included washable, non-toxic water colors. The house is made of 45% post-consumer materials, in theUSA by Panhandle Special Needs Inc. and is 100% recyclable; so, while it may not exactly be peace on earth in a box, this gift is healthy for your child, the environment, and our society. Imagination Box Cottage
What’s a cottage without a tea service?  My daughter adores her recycled, made in the USA, food-grade plastic Tea Set from Green Toys (Wild Dill – $24; or shop Green Toys at Amazon.)If you prefer wood, here’s a beautiful Wooden Tea Set from Plan Toys (Kangaroo Boo – $25) complete with little wooden tea bags!And what would tea time be without sweets?  These Petit Fours by Haba (Kangaroo Boo – $16) look good enough to eat and these Felt Cakes by Twinkle Kids of Holland (Skimbaco – $24-59) have all the fun with none of the calories. Green Toys Tea Set
For your future fashionista, Woodkins Wooden Dress-Up Dolls (Chittypulga – $13) allow her to develop her design sense. Just lift the top wooden board and “dress” your doll in the included fabric. Woodkins
Any kid who likes playing pirate will be able to create hundreds of high seas adventures with the Pirate Ship Play Set by Plan Toys (eBeanstalk – $50)–and mommy can pretend Jack Sparrow’s the captain. Pirate Ship

Musical Instruments

My daughter enjoys playing her Toy Upright Piano by Melissa & Doug (Kazoo Toys – $50). If we did not have a real piano, I probably would have sprung for the Grand Piano by Melissa & Doug (Kazoo Toys – $119). Both come with song books so your child can learn to play simple tunes.
Grand Piano by Melissa & Doug
Help your child find a rhythm that is more percussive and less destructive with the JAMTOWN Multi-Cultural Percussion Set (Amazon – $37). Babies and Younger Toddlers can jam with the Beginner Band Set by Melissa & Doug (Kazoo – $19).
Jamtown Pack
This trio of musical instruments, castanets, guiro, and maracas, from Plan Toys (Kangaroo Boo – $4-7) are sure to keep your kiddos shaking, grooving, and rocking to the beat. Like all Plant Toys creations, these are kid-safe and eco-friendly. Perfect stocking-stuffers! Stocking Stuffer Musical Instruments

Push and Pull

This gorgeous Caterpillar Pull Toy (Craftsbury Kids – $34.00) is handmade of hardwoods in the USA. Stack, pull, and watch the wheels spin–and you’ll still enjoy him as he rests on your shelf. Caterpillar Pull Toy
One of my daughter’s favorite toys is still the Dancing Alligator from Plan Toys (BabyCenter – $19), manufactured in Thailand from renewable rubberwood. He will dance his way into your heart as he click-clacks his way across the floor. Another unique wooden pull toy is this twirling dragon (Our Green House – $28.50). Plan Toys Dancing Alligator
Join Team Green with the E-Racer Monza (Kazoo – $18). This flashy push racing car is made of bamboo and colored with a water-based paint.We also love zooming around Automoblox–wooden cars that kids can take apart, mix and match, and re-build. Get a three-pack of Automoblox Minis (BabyCenter – $30)
Green E-Racer Monza
For your future civil engineer, Plan Toys has a fun Set of Three Construction Vehicles (Kangaroo Boo – $19). There are several sets with cranes, forklifts, steam rollers, and more.The Fagus Fire Truck (eBeanstalk – $17), made in Germany from Beech wood, is another sure favorite when playing “Good Local Government.”
A great place to push all your little vehicles is the Drive Around Town Play Mat from Rocket Bug Toys (My Lullabug – $29). This mom entrepreneur took special care to create an attractive, functional, fun, and safe mat for your little ones. Spacious, with all of the buildings, roads, and parking, a little village needs, the Drive Around Town Play Mat has plenty of room for several children to play together and folds away after use. And it is manufactured in the USA and is lead-free, BPA-free, and Phthalate-free. Car Play Mat
Pre-walkers, toddlers, and preschoolers will enjoy pushing around this WoodPecker Walker from Plan Toys (BabyEarth – $72). The Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon (Red Wagons – $60) makes a fantastic push toy because your tot can load up the wagon and little ones love putting stuff in and taking it out.
WoodPecker Walker
The Drumming Bear Push Toy by Melissa & Doug (Kazoo Toys – $25) is a fun update on a classic toy–you can’t go wrong with a loud toy for a toddler, unless you happen to be the toddler’s parents, of course.
Drumming Bear Push Toy by Melissa & Doug

Easy Rider: Ride-On Toys

The Chicco Play ‘N Ride Train (BabyCenter – $51) starts as a toddler walker and then becomes a preschooler ride on, complete with storage. My daughter loves the different noises she can make with the levers and button.
Chicco Play 'N Ride Train
A comfortable and safe Radio Flyer Retro Scooter (BabyCenter – $81) or the Radio Flyer My First Scooter (KB Toys – $40) from this timeless toy company in its signature fire engine red make great preschooler gifts.
Radio Flyer Retro Scooter
What child wouldn’t love to cruise around in this Antique Hot Rodder Pedal Car by Airflow (Kazoo Toys – $219)?
Antique Hot Rodder Pedal Car by Airflow
The detail on this Road Hog Trike (Sugarplum Dreams – $245) is outstanding–a high quality replica of the original Sky King. The Schylling Retro Speedster Ride-On (Chittypulga – $79.50) has a fun vintage look for the younger set. Road Hog Motorcycle Tricycle

Educational Toys and Puzzles

For simple toddler puzzles at a reasonable price from a company with a good safety record, it is hard to beat Melissa & Doug Puzzles. My daughter owns about a dozen and she enjoys every single one.
Learn your numbers with ImagiPLAY’s Count Octopus (BabyCenter – $16), perfect for a toddler or preschooler. We love ImagiPLAY Puzzles because they are colorful, fun, made of renewable rubberwood under fair trade conditions, and are too attractive to put away. Another gorgeous learning puzzle is this Alphabet Puzzle with animals embracing the earth (Our Grean House – $44).
ImagiPLAY Octopus Numbers Puzzle
One electronic toy that is welcome in our home is the LeapFrog® Tag Reading System (Amazon – $50). My pre-reader enjoys pressing each word and playing the identification and comprehension games. She still loves old-fashioned story time, but this toy is a wonderful tool to get her engaged with reading on a higher level. Leapfrog Tag
Magnet and sticker play scenes help children explore new topics. The Map of the World Play Scene by Mudpuppy (Little Jet Set – $12) allows kids to match people, animals, and monuments with the appropriate continents and countries. Sticker Play Scene
Beginning readers will gain confidence with the See & Spell (eBeanstalk – $20). Buy educational toys and gift series from eBeanstalk and you receive expert suggestions for using the toy to support your child’s development. See and Spell
This swashbuckler will teach your child how to button, tie, zip, and snap: Dress-Up Pirate from Manhattan Toy (Little Jet Set – $26). Language Littles (Amazon – $37) also make learning fun–each doll speaks phrases in a language other than English (including Chinese, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Russian, and more). Dress Up Pirate

Cuddly Friends

Zoobie Pets (Little Jet Set – $32) make great cuddly pals and traveling companions–a plush pet that unfolds into a pillow and blanket.  They’re perfect for trips to Grandma’s or even sleepovers for older kids. Zoobie Pet
Looking for an organic, hand-dyed, renewable, biodegradable, cuddly friend handmade in a bucolic setting right here in the USA? Ecoleeko Ellybo Elephant (Wild Dill – $40) fits the bill perfectly. Elephant
This Elephant Infant Soft Toy by Kathy Kruse (Tiddley Widdley – $18) is so lovely, you won’t want to put it away.Another beautiful cuddle creation is the Plush Matryoshka Doll, Made in England (Craftsbury Kids – $10). Kathe Kruse Grabbing Toy
My daughter’s “fairy godmother” got her this hip fellow. His designers call him “Elvis” (BEEPOSH, $48), but I think this lion looks more like a George Clinton. Elvis Lion from BEEPOSH
Unusual dolls need love, too. After all, it is what is on the inside that counts. Duck Duck Goose is the place for unusual picks like Deglingos ($40), or Ugly Dolls ($12-22). Also check out the brightly colored creatures from Pooki and Co ($25-29 at Oompa Toys). Pooki and Co

Shake, Rattle and Chew: Teethers and Rattles

Both of the Mamanista baby boys have the Winkel by Manhattan Toy (Kazoo Toys – $14) . The Winkel is easy to grab, fun to chew, and makes a soft rattle sound…and yes, the name makes me giggle.One of our favorites is still Sophie the Giraffe (Craftsbury Kids – $19). For a safe, calming teether you can put in the refrigerator, try the Cool It Apple Teether by Natursutten (Kangaroo Boo – $10). When my older girl was teething, she loved these teething beads by Nuby. All of these teethers are BPA-free and Phthalate-free according to their manufacturers. BPA-Free Phthalate-Free Teethers
Or, avoid plastic and latex and opt for a wood and organic cotton teether and rattle (Our Green House – $17.50). My son loves the soft rattle sound and chews on the wood ring and the cloth knots.
This adorable Hedgehog Rattle from Hess (Kangaroo Boo – $13) is handcrafted in Germany from beech wood with colorful rainbow spines that make an enjoyable “click-clack” noise. Infants will have hours (or at least minutes–they have short attention spans, you know) of fun grasping, rolling, and shaking the Plan Toys Roller (BabyCenter – $10). The wood on wood sound of these rattles is relatively pleasant. Hess Hedgehog Rattle
For your future molecular biologist or geodesic dome designer, check out
Classic Skwish Rattle by Manhattan Toy
(Kazoo Toys – $15), one of my boy’s current favorites.
Classic Skwish Rattle by Manhattan Toy

Arts and Crafts

Keep all of your art supplies organized and accessible with the Alex Super Rolling Art Center (BabyCenter – $123) or the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel (Scholastic Store – $50).
Alex Super Rolling Art Center
For good old fashioned crayons and colored pencils, my favorites are Stockmar Beeswax Crayons (Our Green House – $23) and Lyra (Magic Cabin – $9.99+), which are both Made in German. And, when you don’t want to make your own, Clementine Organic Playdough Play Set (Wild Dill – $38) is a great gift.
My little girl loves her Aquadoodle mat ($20-40 retail, depending on the style).  Just add water to the pen and your child can doodle for hours with no mess to clean up and no wasted paper. I’m putting the Spinmaster Aquadoodle Wall Mat (Amazon – $25) on the Holiday Gift Wish List this year. For a more sophisticated version for older children, try the Zen-like Buddha Board (Nature’s Child – $30) Aquadoodle
Once your child can follow simple directions, you can begin to make crafts–a great way to bond and learn. The Knot A Quilt Kit (Highlights – $20) is a simple, attractive, no-sew project. . Or try the seasonal Bead Snowflakes Kit (HearthSong – $25) would make a great grandparent gift. Duck Duck Goose has a fun selection of craft projects, mainly from Melissa and Doug, including stamp sets and “decorate your own” kits.

Dolls and Doll Houses

For a sweet, traditional, move-in ready colonial, you can’t beat the Lavender Dollhouse by Le Toy Van (Tiddley Widdley – $350), made in Indonesia. Easily assembled by an adult, and arriving complete with furniture, this dollhouse is a good bet for older toddlers and pre-schoolers (ages 3+). Another sure kid crowd-pleaser is the Classic Heirloom Victorian Doll House by Melissa & Doug (BabyAge – $130).. Le Van Toy Dollhouse
If you prefer a non-traditional house style, we found these two options from Plan Toys: Chalet Dollhouse with furniture (Kangaroo Boo – $170) and Contemporary Dollhouse (Kangaroo Boo – $110). Both are very open and allow for lots of play even for younger tots. Plan Toys Chalet Dollhouse
The youngest dollhouse aficianados will enjoy the Fold & Go Dollhouse by Melissa & Doug (Kazoo Toys – $57, with accessories), which is sturdy enough to last through several pint-sized landlords but lightweight enough to bring along to Grandmas.
Fold & Go Dollhouse by Melissa & Doug
My daughter may not be quite old enough yet to appreciate how lucky she is to have a Poot & Boogie Doll (Natural Pod) to call her own, but I sure am happy this jazzy, handcrafted, and natural original has found a place in her heart. Poot & Boogie
Finally–a fashion doll parents and children can both love. Groovy Girls ($10-18) are stylish, ethnically diverse, affordable, and they promote positive values and actually look and dress (most of the time) like real pre-teen girls should.  My daughter loves Lycia, whose curly brown hair, blue eyes, and feminine, yet funky sense of style mirrors her own, and Liola the cat, who looks like our Russian Blue. Each girl or pet comes with a Groovy Girls RSVP code to unlock online accessories and games. Groovy Girl Lycia by Manhattan Toy
Drink-and-Wet Bath Baby Dolls Paul and Emma (BabyCenter – $27) are as useful as they are sweet. Part of the high-quality Corolle Dolls collection, Paul and Emma can be bathed and they are both also anatomically correct dolls that drink and wet and help teach your toddler to use the potty. Now if only they developed a doll that taught two year olds not to whine…


TOOBEEZ are like giant tinker toys. This is a great open-ended toy that helps teach spatial relations as well as cooperation. Kits start at $24.99 and come with instructions for building dozens of fun structures–but the only limit is your imagination. Teepee-TBZ31B
Connectagons (HearthSong – $25) are fun for building whatever you can imagine. Dado Cubes (Highlights – $28) are even easier for preschoolers to stack, but still fun for kids of any age (including grandparents) and are a great way to learn about balance and cantilevering.
Older kids can build medieval fortresses and cathedrals with the Kings and Castles Block Set (HearthSong – $80).iconFor a more traditional set of wooden nursery blocks, try the Uncle Goose ABC blocks (Wild Dill – $28) are safe, non-toxic and charmingly vintage. And Oompa Toys stocks almost every type of soft blocks, baby blocks, stacking blocks, and architectural blocks imaginable. castle blocks
Like Jenga for tots, the Star Stack Ups (HearthSong – $30) is a fun game of balance. When you are done, you can bowl it over with the included ball.

12 Days of Giveaways (ENDED)

  1. Learning Tower and Chalk Board ARV $270 (ends December 15)
  2. One Step Ahead 3-in-1 Stepping Stone Play Mat ARV $50 (ends November 28)
  3. TOOBEEZ Construction Set ARV $99 (ends December 1)
  4. Radio Flyer Turbo Turtle Ride-On ARV $50 (ends December 2)
  5. LeapFrog TAG Reading System ARV $50 (ends December 3)
  6. Cheekeyes Wooden Animals Set ARV $30 (ends December 4)
  7. ImagiPLAY Puzzle and Pushalong ARV $32 (ends December 5)
  8. Driving Around Town Play Mat from Rocket Bug Toys & My Lullabug ARV $29 – ends December 8
  9. Plan Toys WoodPecker Walker ARV $72- ends December 9
  10. HABA Biofino Play Food ARV $35 – ends December 10
  11. Smart-E Bear ARV $80 – ends December 11
  12. TWO CONTESTS: Groovy Girls RSVP Set ARV $185; Zoobie Pet ARV $32 – both end December 12

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