Fri08292014

Business & Real Estate

Toy story: A local giving guide


Photo By: Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Photo Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier

Adventure Toys employee Max McGillis leaps on a Spooner board.

Want a more personalized touch as a break from browsing on Amazon? On a walk-through before the Christmas frenzy had truly begun, the comparatively serene staff at Adventure Toys & Teachers’ Supplies, 173 Main St. in downtown Los Altos, gave a rundown of the new, the popular and the slightly quirky products for sale in Los Altos this year.

Multitasker of the year award goes to Laser Game Khet 2.0 ($39.99) – the chesslike board game combines cerebral strategy with the sci-fi violence of real (eye-safe) lasers. No more reaching out a delicate finger to knock over the opponent’s king. Egyptian-themed pieces, some equipped with mirrors that reflect the beams, move around a board with rules somewhere between checkers and chess.

“The boy I take care of loves the laser part of it – how it bounces off different things,” Michelle Wilbur said.

She’s put in hours behind the counter at Adventure Toys since 1998, and when she’s not working in the toyshop, she’s a local nanny.

Eager to encourage fresh air and moderate amounts of mayhem?

For those seeking pure fun, the Stomp Rocket Ultra ($19.99) and Rocket Balloons with Dual-Action Pump ($12.99 for 50 balloon set) make for an outdoor day of running around the park or backyard. Launch soft projectiles or pump up balloons and watch them fly (and chase after them).

Want to cultivate skills while you’re at it? The Spooner ($49.99) channels a pared-down skateboard, keeping some of the physical style but losing the wheels. The curved plastic board requires balance and coordination and can be used to practice tricky footwork on pavement or taken out in the snow as a kind of sport snowboard.

The Ezy-Roller ($99.99) looks like a low-rider tricycle, with a recumbent, luge-style body positioning. Pedalers pump a bar with their feet to move and steer. Wilbur promises that because the vehicle doesn’t require much, if any, balancing skill, riders as young as 4 can become immediate speedster successes.

As a possible nominee in the “It’ll Pay Off Someday Category,” turn to the book “Tape It & Make It” by Richela Fabian Morgan ($14.99, Barron’s Educational Series, 2012) and the set of colored duct tapes ($17.99) that can pair with it. Confirming that grunge lives on, at least in the proliferation of duct-tape wallets, this book takes the DIY duct-tape crafting conceit to new extremes. These days, one can learn to make pirate hats, purses, roses, picture frames, aprons, ties and more. There’s a scholarship competition out there rewarding the year’s best tape-tailored prom ensemble – start your children now and perhaps you’ll save on a tux rental later.

One of last year’s most prized Christmas buys, Magna-Tiles ($49.99), might be in for another big year. The sets of colorful magnetic shapes cling together as young people craft free-form 3-D structures. The unconstrained ability to imagine and construct a palace or aircraft carrier has proved a popular creative outlet for young people, and the spatial relationships, logic and problem-solving behind the architecture proved popular with parents at Adventure Toys. Wilbur said the shop was hardly able to keep the sets of varied squares and triangles in stock last year.

For a final moment of nostalgia for gift-shoppers who remember the 1980s with a mix of fondness and horror, it turns out one product of that decade is still selling like hotcakes this season: Calico Critters, which remain an enigmatic favorite.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you, something about it – the kids are just drawn to it,” Wilbur said. “It’s hard to keep in stock. During Christmas, it goes really quickly.”

First created by a Japanese company nearly 20 years ago, the fuzzy little plastic figurines of animals wearing folksy human clothing have apparently only grown more mesmerizing with age. The classic original cast of pastel-clad mouse and rabbit nuclear families has expanded in scope, if not in tone. The aesthetic of midcentury Americana kitsch remains largely untouched, but today’s generation of youngsters (and an enduring number of adult collectors – you know who you are) can now add meerkats and koalas to their woodland menagerie.

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