Holiday Gift Guide / Parenting Blog

The 2011 OWTK Holiday Gift Guide

You’ve been waiting patiently, I know, just dyin’ to get started on the Christmas shopping but not wanting to make a single move until perusing the annual OWTK Holiday Gift Guide.  Well, get the credit cards ready ’cause it’s finally here!

I’ve compiled a stellar and affordable (if not modest) collection of toys, books, games, technology, gear, and gadgets for all kiddie age ranges.  The idea is that you could complete a good chunk of shopping for your entire family from this guide and not go broke.  Why did I do this?  Because I love you, of course.  Do I wish I could’ve added more, yes, but I am a mere mortal after all.

For all the best in gaming, please refer to the comprehensive series of Gaming Gift Guides produced by OWTK’s gaming guru Cooper McHatton.  There you’ll find the best and brightest for your little gamer this Christmas, regardless of platform preference.  And every kid loves music, right, so why not peruse OWTK’s Best Kid’s Music of 2011 to find the CD that’s right for your little one.  Get some fresh hot kindie rock in those stocking this Christmas, okay?

And now, the 2011 OWTK Holiday Gift Guide!

AGES 12+

dELiA*s Gift Card – Listen up, there’s nothing worse than clothes shopping for an 12-year old girl, N-O-T-H-I-N-G.  It’s either screaming primary colors plastered with peace signs, or tramp wear & Uggly boots.  This is why dELiA*s is so rad.  The clothes are, you know, normal looking!  Yet hip.  Kinda classy.  And affordable. And, as an added bonus, the stores aren’t dripping with sex, bad club music, and posters of 16 year old boys with their shirts off.  Yeah, dELiA*s is pretty sweet.  A $50 gift card should get your daughter or niece an outfit top to bottom, and maybe a spiffy an accessory or some nail polish to boot.

Dabble – A faster paced version of Scrabble without the chance of getting squeezed by your opponent laying down a killer three letter word to start the game.  Ain’t that the worst?  Dabble offers amazing gameplay for those still expanding their vocabulary.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – is there anyone left on Earth yet to read these books?  Oh yeah, me.  And maybe someone on your list.  If so, get hip to the most buzzed-about series since Harry Potter.  Have they already read Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and MockingJay?  How about the unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook.  That’d be fun, no?


AGES 6-12

Very close to ours, expect we had it painted green.

Handmade stuff vs. mass-marketed, factory-made junk from overseas (or specifically, in our case, a doll bed NOT from American Girl) – the Bear’s #1 wish this Christmas was for a bed, a doll bed, for Elisa, her 18″ American Girl.  She spotted the groovy, 1970s-aped one from the AG catalog but I couldn’t bring myself to drop the $125 plus shipping on it.  Instead, I scoured the internets to find a comparable one with similarly perky design features (canopy, beads, fabric patterns), and boy did I ever!  Via the eBay shop for Treetop Designs, I connected with a literal mom & pop from MN slowly churning out gorgeous canopy beds for any 18″ doll, American Girl or otherwise.  After trading a few emails I was able to customize the color scheme to match the Bear’s own purple & green bedroom. The total cost with shipping? $95.  ‘Twas American-made, less expensive, and 100% unique; made as only “Santa” could.  Check out their current listing, for a pretty in pink canopy doll bed for American Girl dolls.  Also check Etsy for all kinds of adorable homemade doll clothes that are prettier and WAY more reasonably priced than American Girl.  Santa picked up Elisa this set of winter PJs with knit booties for $10!

Reader’s Digest “I Wish I Knew That” Books for Young Learners – I firmly believe most children are super curious about the world, about how things works, about why things are the way they are.  It’s us adults that instead fill their heads with commercialized garbage and/or toss a bucket of cold water on their fiery passion for knowledge.  How about, in lieu of all of that, we fan the flame of discovery while the wonder of it all is still wondrous to them?  Sound good?  Good.  These Reader’s Digest (yeah, I know I had the same reaction.  I picture my grandma reading her copies of RD some 3 decades ago) hardback books cover a wide range of subjects and, to my surprise, can be read almost as a novel.  At least that is how the Bear and Mouse are devouring them, soaking up the quirky facts, grammar rules, science mysteries, and all that is included within.  The books help light bulbs go off in a world where kid’s minds only seem to be getting dimmer. Check out the general knowledge one below or this perfect hardback book for little geography lovers.

Squinkies – I reviewed them at length already so I’ll spare you all that praise again.  These tiny things are just adorable, even the bad ass dudes, and without arms to move, legs to make run, and facial expressions to tell a preset story, Squinkies are more a vehicle for imaginative play than anything else.  That’s exactly the role they play in my home, one of inspiring creativity.  And that’s awesome.  I’m all in on these squishy itty bitty playthings.

You’ve Been Sentenced – a thrilling, fast-paced sentence building game young readers will love to play and to challenge their parents to building the longest, zaniest, and highest-scoring sentences imaginable.  One of the best games I’ve played this year. I even reviewed it on TV for NBC10 Philadelphia.

The Man in the Moon / The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce – this is, simply put, one of the finest books ever published for children.  I demand it become a part of your library.  I could stop there but I’ll also point you to my review of the book as well as point out that this is the first in what promises to be an exhilarating series giving back story to the likes of Santa, Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. A world of fantasy and wonder awaits.  Don’t even hesitate for a moment.  Buy this now.

Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure – have you had enough of me writing about this game yet?  I hope not, because here it is one more time.  A hilarious, fun, imaginative and mildly addictive cross-platform game for families to enjoy together, Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure might be the best gift you can put under a tree this year. And to remind you, this is coming from a total non-gamer and non-gamer family.  Skylanders is an absolute blast, you and your kids will not be disappointed.


AGES 3-6

Scholastic Storybook Treasures Mo Willems Cartoon Collection Vol. 2 – The 2nd installment of the animated Mo Willems includes three more of his modern day kiddie classics set in full cartoon motion.  This edition features Knuffle Bunny Too, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (for my money, the funniest of all the Mo Willem stories), and the title cut Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog.  The DVD comes with a fascinating featurette on the author/illustrator that any aspiring writer, be them 5 or 35, will be able to take something away from.  I know I learned a little bit about authoring children’s books from Mo Willems here.  But more importantly, any fan of Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny will love seeing Trixie et al on the big (or little) screen.  Santa could do worse than to slide this DVD into a few stocking this Christmas.

Big Brother Football Organic Toddler T-Shirt – Got a new baby, got an older boy, love the pigskin?  Then boy-o-boy do I have the t-shirt for you, this snazzy Big Brother Football Organic shirt for young lads.  Also available in Little Brother, Big/Little Sister formats.  Buy it here.

Melissa & Doug Folding Medieval Castle – the Mouse’s special wish from Santa was a castle.  After much searching and no handmade luck a la the Bear’s doll bed, we decided on the ‘made by hand’ Melissa & Doug Medieval Castle.  It is wonderful! Gigantic, but folding to save some space, with realistic brick designs on the inside and out.  The open layout allows even your littlest kiddos to reach into the castle, it’s courtyard, towers, and dungeon to play princess games, and/or with knights/dragons/kings/queens.  Santa also made sure that the Mouse has a new figure to break in the castle with, this super cool Silver Unicorn Knight from Papo.

Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock DVD/CD – The 4th DVD/CD combo in the ongoing Yellowgold saga is the 1st with a start to finish storyline.  Infinity Sock includes some of songwriter/illustrator Morgan Taylor’s finest work to date; the hilariously giddy “Wisconsin Poncho”, the soft-rock arena anthem “Beehive” (Taylor’s ode to childhood faves KISS), and a subtle gem of a song that’ll have you and your kids looking inward (“Question Marks”).  Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock is a mellow and truly unique musical/visual experience for young children and will look great under the tree this year.

Squishables Stuffed Animals – I covered these uber-adorable plush friends extensively this Fall but they deserve inclusion in the gift guide because they truly are the most cuddly, soft, attractive and loveable stuffed animals I’ve ever seen.  I mean, look at the fox.  Sit him statue still in your office or child’s bedroom and he’ll make all your cares and worries disappear (*not guaranteed).  Worst case, your Squishable will immediately become the cutest thing in your home…other than your children, um, of course.  Available in giant 15″ or modest 7″ varieties (Note: the different sizes set up a Mommy/Baby dream scenario for young girls).

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith – The most visually stunning picture book I’ve read this year tells the tale of a grandfather’s life through his passion for intricate topiaries.  Lane Smith (John, Paul George & Ben) once again proves mastery with wordplay and illustrations.

City Square Off – a Battleship-esque strategy game for 2 players that has you playing the role of city planner.  Make your city grow but keep the pieces inside the grid – first one that can’t loses.  A quick thinking game for kids as young as 3 because there is no reading needed.

Esther Williams DVD Collection Vol. 2 – a special gift from another time for modern girls who fancy musicals and elaborate choreography.  Add to that mix the lovely Esther Williams and a variety of graceful synchronized swimming, action just not included in present day films, and you’ve got your 3-5 year-old girl’s newest obsession.  For nostalgic fans of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, American in Paris and other 1/2-century-old Hollywood musicals, this Vol. 2 set of 6 DVDs includes Million Dollar Mermaid, the true story of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, which is said to be one of Williams’ best swimming movies.

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