Stockings hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that the Super Mario Bros. soon will be there? Well, why not? The best video games make great gifts for kids — as do books, audiocassettes, videos, and games. Here are Entertainment Weekly‘s gift-giving selections for kids of all ages.
When you give a child a book, you want to be like the good fairy at the christening — to cast a spell of enchantment, to dazzle the child into falling in love with reading. These are chosen for surefire dazzle power:
The Peter Rabbit Presentation Box
A treasure trove neatly stowed in a little trunk with a handle: 11 hand-size books with delectable illustrations, including Appley Dappley Nursery Rhymes and The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse.
Photos by Stephen Shott
is a big, bold hardcover catalog of babies, their toys, clothes, pastimes, and familiar objects, photographed in brilliant colors on sturdy white pages.
The Kid From Tomkinsville
John R. Tunis
Thrill the young baseball fan by making a gift package of this and Tunis’ three other exciting baseball novels from the 1940s. Tunis brought civilized values and a sportswriter’s eye for action to these novels, and no one has ever done it better.
The Very Quiet Cricket
Favorite picture-book artist Carle tells the endearing story of a cricket who learns to chirp when he falls in love. The impressionistic pictures are lovely, and the sound effect — a cricket song that plays when you turn the last page — is enchanting.
Granny Will Your Dog Bite and Other Mountain Rhymes
Rollicking rhymes from Appalachia swing with rhythm and boisterous humor. This is the real thing — wild and alive, gorgeously illustrated, and with a terrific cassette on which the rhymes are sung with banjo, fiddle, and dulcimer.
The Big Book for Peace
Edited by Ann Durell and Marilyn Sachs
is a perfect holiday gift, in the tradition of old-fashioned ”annuals” crammed with stories, pictures, and poems to browse through. Some of America’s stellar writers and artists, including Natalie Babbitt, Lloyd Alexander, Maurice Sendak, and Barbara Cooney, contributed work. There are funny, touching, and thought-provoking stories-none of them preachy — all springing from the struggle to achieve harmony among friends, siblings, nations, and races.
The Little Lame Prince
Adapted and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
This 19th-century tale about a prince exiled by his wicked uncle has been transformed by one of America’s wittiest and most humane picture-book artists. Prince Francisco is a crippled pig who comes back from exile to save the people of El Cordoba. The illustrations are rich with humor and invention, and the tale has haunting overtones that will draw readers back again and again.
Fun With Hieroglyphs
This handsome package is irresistible to language lovers and art lovers alike. Inside the elegant box are a booklet telling an amazing amount about the history of Egyptian hieroglyphs, 24 rubber hieroglyph stamps, an ink pad, and charts on how to write secret hieroglyph messages.
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
L. Frank Baum
No other version of this classic American fairy tale even comes close to the charm and beauty of the original edition, reproduced here with all the wonderful John R. Neill decorations, drawings, and full-color illustrations.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
If you read this 400-page, densely textured, wonderfully alive novel when you were a kid, you’ll remember its intensity. Jody is a Florida backwoods boy whose poor family lets him keep and raise a fawn — until it destroys the precious crops. Jody’s wrenching passage from boyhood to adult life is unforgettable.
Mary Norton; illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
A brilliantly written fantasy about 13-year-old Arrietty, one of the tiny ”borrower” people who live beneath the floors of human houses, this novel delights with its vigor and ingenuity. Beneath its antic surface, it is a touching story of a pre-adolescent’s eagerness to explore the freedom of the larger world. Buy the whole five-book series for a spectacular gift.
The 13 Clocks
James Thurber; illustrated by Marc Simont
Just in time for the holidays, this Thurber gem has been reissued in its sparklingly illustrated original format. Thurber’s ironic fairy tale is hilarious and gripping at the same time. Prince Zorn of Zorna tries to rescue the Princess Saralinda from the ”cold, aggressive” Duke, a villain so wicked that he limps as a result of ”place-kicking pups and punting kittens” in his youth. The wordplay can make a reader tipsy with pleasure.
The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald; illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith
The story of Curdie, the boy miner, and his tender friendship with little Princess Irene, who is menaced by ugly goblins, is one of the most exciting, memorable, and un-stereotyped (Irene rescues Curdie) of Victorian adventure-fantasies. Smith’s glowing pictures enhance the magic.
Just a Dream
Chris Van Allsburg
This is a cautionary tale about young Walter, who sneers at environmental concerns. Then he takes a dream trip into the future and changes his mind. Van Allsburg’s paintings have an eerie super-realist power that disturbs and exhilarates. Luckily, this picture book ends on an optimistic note.
— Michele Landsberg
As a gift, a videotape has many virtues. It comes assembled, requires no batteries, has a long shelf life, takes up little space under the tree, and is easy to wrap. Unfortunately, choosing a video can be daunting: There are hundreds of titles and a wide range in quality. Here are some of the best to make the trip to the store as effortless as possible:
Clifford’s Fun With Numbers
Clifford, the gigantic red dog and star of a popular series of books by Norman Bridwell, helps familiarize children with numbers in this cute story about a birthday party. Above-average animation and clever songs make the learning so painless it’s almost ”dog-matic.”
The Red Shoes
Ossie Davis narrates this contemporary animated version of the Hans Christian Andersen story, about two poor girls whose friendship is tested when one of their families wins a lottery. Caleb Sampson’s haunting music complements muted artwork that evokes the atmosphere of inner-city New York.
The Baby-Sitters Club: Mary Anne and the Brunettes
This witty and sensitive film analyzes one of the world’s most volatile mixtures: boys, girls, dating, and romance. Mary Anne (Meghan Lahey) is nuts about Logan Bruno (Eric Lawton) and hopes he’ll ask her to a party. But Marci (Randi Mollo), a flirt, does her best to nab him first. The shy Mary Anne learns the importance of expressing her feelings, and Logan comes to understand the value of honesty.
Sing Yourself Silly!
This collection of 11 songs from Sesame Street includes many of the best-known numbers, such as ”Put Down the Duckie,” and James Taylor’s captivating ”Jellyman Kelly.” Among the celebrities who help out: John Candy, Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Itzhak Perlman, and Pee- wee Herman. Some songs are animated; others star Oscar, Kermit, and the gang.
Kids love Madeline, the heroine of Ludwig Bemelmans’ 1938 story, because despite being the smallest of the girls living in a Paris convent, she’s the bravest and naughtiest, unafraid of the tiger at the zoo, able to buzz her plane past the Eiffel Tower. Joe Raposo’s engaging music enhances this simply but artfully animated version, told in clever rhyming verse.
Barney & The Backyard Gang: Barney’s Campfire Sing-along
At first glance, adults may find it hard to figure out the charm of Barney, the talking purple dinosaur with the corny yucka-yucka laugh, or of a camping adventure that takes place indoors on artificial turf, with a fire simulated by colored paper. Barney works because he’s friendly, enthusiastic, upbeat — the sort of make-believe buddy young children dream about. The songs he and the kids sing are easy to learn.
Adults will have as much fun as kids listening to Ry Cooder’s twangy music and narrator Robin Williams’ vocal pyrotechnics in this classic tale of the man who created the Great Salt Lake by making a cyclone cry. Most scenes are still shots of Tim Raglin’s fanciful illustrations, but occasionally, movements are simulated.
Mister Rogers: Dinosaurs and Monsters
In some ways, Fred Rogers seems just like a dinosaur: He’s popular with young kids and is from another age — unaffected, honest, and sincere. Here he teaches about dinosaurs and talks candidly about kids’ feelings about large animals — or monsters.
Ramona: Mystery Meal and Rainy Sunday
Ramona Quimby, the heroine, is an 8-year-old in a very ordinary family faced with very ordinary problems. That’s what makes Ramona so intriguing to children. They know what it’s like when parents ask them to eat something they don’t want to (the subject of ”Mystery Meal”) or when they have to endure a long day indoors at home (”Rainy Sunday”).
— Jeff Unger
Do not collect $200. Do not go to the toy store — yet. Faced with a truly dizzying display of games — the good, the bad, and the unplayable — you may need a little help. This guide is the result of hundreds of play-hours by 24 kids ages 3 to 13, who tested dozens of games. Youngest players go first.
A good first game (no counting, no reading) in which players match colors and pictures on their way to the Candy Castle. Occasionally young feelings are hurt when players are sent back to the Peppermint Forest, but most preschoolers find it exciting to play a real game.
The object in this first counting game is to get 10 plastic cherries from the player’s tree into a bucket. A spinner gives visual cherry-picking (or putting back) instructions. Other than counting to four, no skill is required.
Our most exciting discovery, this simple dexterity game can be played alone against the clock, or against another player. Each of two fingerboxes contains 16 colored balls and holes in the bottom. Players manipulate the balls into patterns matching their cards. Adults find this one as fun, and as challenging, as children do.
This simplified version of the classic game has children buy “ticket booths” instead of houses. The largest denomination is $5, unlucky players are sent to the rest rooms, and best of all, a game lasts about 30 manageable minutes.
Enchanted Forest is — yes, we’ll say it —enchanting. Players try to remember the location of 13 hidden treasures as they discover them in the forest. Then they proceed to the castle — or, by rolling doubles, get there instantly — and must prove their memories to claim the treasure card. The first player to collect three treasure cards rules the kingdom and wins the game.
Simon doesn’t merely say — it beeps, blinks, and when you miss, it even ”blaaahs.” In this elegant precursor to modern electronic games, the object is to repeat correctly an increasingly difficult series of colored blips. Simple design, sturdy, no pieces to lose.
Stampin’: The Lively Game of Stamp Acquisition
Shop early. The post office is the only place to find Stampin’, a collecting game that features auctions, money handling, and chance as players try to complete their stamp sets. Both educational and entertaining, Stampin’ also includes an introductory book on stamp collecting.
The Simpsons: Don’t Have a Cow Dice Game
Players throw the dice for certain combinations of Simpson family characters, and bet chips on whether they will roll successfully. The game would work just as well with standard dice, but would it sell so well without Bart, Homer, and all the rest? No way, man!
— Karen Ray
Face it: Unless you put it in a shoebox, a cassette tape or a CD seems mighty small under the holiday tree. So there’s something big in each of these suggestions. If it’s not a big book accompanying the tiny tape, it’s a big name — or big talent.
Mainly Mother Goose
Next to Raffi, this folksy Canadian trio may have the largest following among preschoolers, partly because parents love their stuff. How could they not? It comes at you so fast, you can’t get bored. Goose, with more than 60 songs, ditties, chants, and poems, exemplifies their cheerful, fast-paced style.
The Baby’s Bedtime Book
Illustrated by Kay Chorao, sung by Judy Collins
This 45-minute tape comes with a hardcover book, in which lovely illustrations accompany the lyrics to 27 lullabies. Some are as familiar as ”Rock-a-bye Baby”; others are ingenious musical versions of poems by Blake and Tennyson. All are sung prettily by Judy Collins, a fact that will impress new parents, if not their children.
Grandma’s Patchwork Quilt
is a sampler of 11 oldies, sung by such kid-music luminaries as John McCutcheon and Cathy Fink. Listening to Fink’s ”Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” or Jonathan Edwards’ poignant ”Three Blind Mice,” kids will be transported. Even parents will think they are back at summer camp.
A Child’s Garden of Verses
Listening to Dame Judith Anderson reading Robert Louis Stevenson is the next best thing to reading my 33-year-old edition of the book. Full of British imperialism and upper-class moralisms, Stevenson was what kids had before Mister Rogers and what adults had before Masterpiece Theatre. On the surface, Stevenson often seems as innocent as Fred Rogers. But his work is really about the power of a child’s imagination. Strong stuff, gently administered.
Doc Watson Sings Songs for Little Pickers
Watson will similarly transport parents back to the late-’60s bluegrass festivals. The venerable folk musician sings the beautiful ”Shady Grove” and ”The Riddle Song,” as well as such rustic classics as ”Froggy Went A-Courtin”’ and ”John Henry.”
The Ugly Duckling
Don’t give this classic tale of miserable adolescence to a miserable adolescent. That would be cruel. Give it early, to prepare for the trials that may await. The sentimental story, accompanied by music, is nicely read by Cher, a self-proclaimed former ugly duckling herself.
— Susan Stewart
Shopping for video-game players is a little more complicated this year, with two new game machines — TurboGrafx-16 (NEC) and Genesis (Sega) — challenging Nintendo. Make sure you know what kind of hardware the vidkid on your list has before you shop. The choices below are guaranteed to keep players entertained for months, not just through the holidays.
Super Mario Bros. 3
The first Mario Bros. game, released in 1986, was so good that many people bought Nintendo systems just to play it. The second was somewhat disappointing, but No. 3 is exemplary. It’s a fine extension of the original, taking its basic play mechanism (all Mario really does is run and jump over things) and applying it to varied environments — an ice world, a desert, islands — each requiring a different strategy. Even the most jaded kid will be challenged and surprised.
R.B.I. Baseball 2
Out of the 10 baseball games available, this is only the second to simulate real players. And a game is a lot more interesting when Rickey Henderson is leading off first and Jose Canseco is swinging the stick. It seems impossible to beat the computer at first, but once you master the game, it’s difficult to lose.
A Boy and His Blob
This charming little gem is based on a refreshingly offbeat idea. The hero is a teenage boy enlisted by an alien blob to help save the alien’s planet. The blob thrives on jellybeans, different flavors of which turn him into different objects. The boy can turn his blob into a hole, a floating bubble, an umbrella, or other useful devices in this witty, whimsical, but nonviolent game.
Lolo is a little furball on a mission to rescue his princess. The story line is irrelevant, though: Lolo 2 is really a marvelous puzzle/maze game. In dozens of rooms, Lolo must maneuver from entrance to exit, avoiding monsters in between. In most cases, quick reflexes don’t come into play; instead, the player must carefully calculate the one route that will get Lolo across the room without putting him in harm’s way.
This goofy prehistoric adventure owes a big debt to Super Mario Bros., but it’s quite an achievement in its own right. Like Mario, Bonk has to get past countless enemies, but the little caveman can defeat them by ”bonking” them with his enormous head, and the bizarre obstacles will have kids shaking their heads in amazement and giggling with delight.
Pinball, which is practically regarded as a contact sport by its best players, usually doesn’t translate well to video. This version compensates for the missing physical impact with great special effects. Targets grunt and mutate when hit, and some of them can take a player to bonus screens that act as miniature games within a game.
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
This is another graphic marvel built around a not-very-inspired idea. A run-jump-shoot game, it’s very cleverly designed, requiring mastery of many strategies. The production values are the real raison d’être here, though: The monsters are sometimes scary, sometimes goofy; the settings are eerie; and the music is reminiscent of a good horror-movie score.
All three systems
A fast-paced puzzle game à la Tetris, Klax requires players to arrange colored tiles into vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines-each of the hundred screens offers a different challenge. It’s a simple game enhanced by wonderful sound effects and neat background graphics. Its nuances become apparent only with extended play, but you’ll want to put in the hours: Klax is the year’s most addictive cartridge. — Lou Kesten