Book Reviews,  Festivities & Celebrations

Gift Guide For Good Kids (Or Even Merely Tolerable)

Herewith, gift ideas for the kids.  I’ve tried not to duplicate the ideas I put in last year’s gift guide for boys, so if you need more thoughts, click here and see what I recommended last year.

If you’ve missed the other installments, the gift guide for teachers, babies and toddlers is here.  Part Deux, including suggestions for people who are hard to buy for, is here.


All three of my boys are on the fifth Harry Potter book at the moment.  Last night we’d stuck Porter in the bed, but he popped out and came in our room to inform us that “all the house elves except Dobby are drinking lots of butter-beer, and it’s very strong for house elves.  I’m worried about what will happen.”

For those of you who haven’t been hooked by these books yet, they are a gift to this generation of up-and-coming readers, and are responsible for my younger boys making huge leaps in their reading ability this year.  I haven’t been able to snap a picture of the boys running in the driveway riding brooms and chasing a tennis ball and a basketball simultaneously in an Alabama version of Quidditch, but I assure you it happens.


Drew practices his broom-riding technique inside

I’d do anything to encourage an eight or nine-year old to read the Harry Potter books.  They get longer as the series progresses.  Consequently, we’ve purchased the paperbacks so the boys can lug them to school without chiropractic assistance.

I received a magazine in the mail that features expensive Harry Potter paraphernalia, including a replica of the sorcerer’s stone ($95) and a pewter Gryffindor mug ($55) but the Hogwarts bookmarks aren’t quite as pricey. ($20)

All of the books I recommended in last year’s Boy Toy gift guide are still popular, especially Little Lit.  Other hits this year for the twins included Roald Dahl’s books (James and the Giant Peach and The BFG were clear favorites), Andrew Clements’s books (especially The Landry News and Lunch Money), Diary of a Wimpy Kid(the graphic format and honesty captivated them), and a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys
together with some of the supplies called for in the book, such as a compass, rope, a knife, and so forth.  Aunt Su gets credit for this genius idea.

(Although, I should point out that they didn’t need a book to learn how to be dangerous.  Finn told me that earlier this year when I raced to the store for forgotten dinner ingredients, he and his brothers collected twigs, sticks and leaves, mounded them in the
driveway, set them on fire and enjoyed the spectacle.  When I called to say I was on my way home, they extinguished the fire, swept all traces from the driveway, changed their clothes and resumed their homework as I drove into the garage.)

Other books that they’ve loved: The Indispensable Calvin And Hobbes, Nate The Great , and the Junie B. Jones books.

There’s another series of books including Wizardology and Pirateology that Drew and Porter both adore.  It’s a lot like a scrapbook style story, as if you discovered a sailor’s journal of his quest to find a pirate, with maps and drawings.

Often I’ll see large coffee table books on the bargain shelves at the bookstore.  I’ve picked up one about the Titanic and one about the Civil War, and the boys have been fascinated by the pictures.  That’s been another good way to sneak in some learning.  Tuesday Morning also had some of these.

Porter has been stealing my printer paper and making all sorts of paper airplanes.  If I didn’t already have plenty of ideas for him, I’d buy him his own sheaf of paper and The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes.  Or if I felt guilty about destroying trees, I’d get the Encylopedia of Immaturity (Klutz) which contains tons of funny activities, like instructions for taking a picture where it looks like you’re holding your tiny friends on your thumbs.

For the older crowd, I’m high on three new books.  Alabama Moon is by Watt Key, a Mobile native I got to know last winter.  He’s a hoot, and has spent so much time in the wilderness that he’s eaten armadillo just to survive, and then discovered that chewing pine bark cured the horrific halitosis caused by the armadillo.  Let me hasten to add that he’s gotten rave reviews for his book, and you don’t have to love armadillo or be from the South to enjoy it.


Watt Key’s Idea of Dinner


What Watt Key Uses Instead of Colgate

The Chicken Dance was being promoted at BEA last spring, and I got to meet the charming author, Jacques Couvillon, who kindly inscribed a copy for Finn: “You can fly!”  The author photo shows him feeding chickens while wearing a tux, and if that isn’t a kick-ass picture,  I don’t know what is.  I’m going to start this book as soon as I finish the damn John Rosemond book over in the right sidebar, the one about fostering responsible decision making in your teen.  Or hell, that book doesn’t seem to be working, so maybe I’ll start The Chicken Dance tonight.  I could use a break from the parenting grind.

I’m also eager to read The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh in which a boy goes under Grand Central Station and discovers another world.  I always suspected there were ghosts under the subways!


How about the way I’ve organized everything so neatly into Books and Not Books?

One of the best suggestions I received this year would be good for anyone, but especially younger drivers: gas gift cards.  Here is a site where you can order Shell gift cards.  I just Googled it; I’m sure you can do the same for your nearby station.

Kids with iPods (or hell– anyone with an iPod) can always use an iTunes gift card.

Art supplies are always a good bet- as Drew got older we got him special sketching pencil and sketch paper.  In last year’s gift guide I described other popular art supplies.   But wait!  What if you’ve been there, done that?  Then it’s time to move on to those office supplies the kids are always snatching from you – Post-It notes, large paper clips, different kinds of tape, staplers, index cards, fancy pens and pencils, pads of paper and notebooks, and so forth.  You know who would love this?  Zoot.  She goes ballistic over office supplies.

Speaking of office and school supplies, my reliable friend Margaret, who should have just written this damn guide herself – THAT’S how many great ideas she had– has alerted me that there’s a segment of the elementary school population that’s wild about Pencil Petz erasers.  The kids stack them on pencils or make bracelets out of them.  There’s no denying that collecting erasers is much more edifying than fighting over Soulja Boy.

If you’re purchasing for hangman or tic-tac-toe lovers, Horchow makes a set of three pads, one preprinted for each game and one for drawing.  You can personalize them, too.

Remote controlled items are still extremely popular, and Porter says Air Hogs are the way to go.  You might consider the Air Hogs Remote Controlled Reflex Helix or the Air Hogs Mini Storm Launcher.

Kids also go nuts over Transformers.  Frankly, I find them creepy.  What mother would buy something that is described like this:

BONECRUSHER hates everything, and what BONECRUSHER hates, he destroys.  He hates this planet, and all its inhabitants. He hates the AUTOBOTS for getting in his way. He even hates MEGATRON and the other DECEPTICONS; the only reason he stays with them is because MEGATRON scares him. BONECRUSHER lives for the day when he’s the only one left standing atop a pile of smoking rubble and shattered robots.

I would, because  Bonecrusher is only $10, while other Transformers, like  Hasbro Transformers Ultimate Bumblebee Figure are $99.  You’ve got to be kidding– a bee that transforms?

Now that I look more closely, I see that it transforms from a Camaro into a scary yellow robot, and that’s pretty cool.  If there’s a boy on your list, you cannot go wrong with a Transformer.

transformer1    camaro

Porter received a METAL DETECTOR one year and it’s been extremely popular.  There are detectors made for kids, but this one is a little cheaper.  You can see other choices on that page.  Alabama is in a severe drought, and the lake is lower than it’s been in years.  We were there a couple of weekends ago and the boys had a fabulous time finding buried treasure such as broken deck chairs, a varied assortment of liquor bottles, a boathouse door, an original pop-top Tab can, and a pair of parachute pants.  We didn’t find tons of money or jewelry with the metal detector, but if it had been there, we would have.


Here’s a picture of a dried-up lake that yielded many treasures.


There’s a special place in my heart for the red parachute pants we found.  U Can’t Touch These!

Porter saw this set of huge maps U.S./World 2 for 1 Map at a bookstore and purchased it with his own money.  As soon as we got home he hung one over his bed and one on the opposite wall.  Then he stuck pushpins in the places he’d been.  The world map shows the flags of different countries at the bottom, which is riveting for a nine-year-old.  Both boys used the map of America when they were getting ready for their geography test.  This was the best money Porter’s ever spent.

Now that everyone’s old enough to play, board games are becoming more fun.  Hits and recommendations include Operation, Mousetrap, Blokus , Othello, Rush Hour, Monopoly and Life (although I still think the latter teaches the wrong lessons about life).

Readers have also suggested Settlers of Catan, which I’ve never heard of but which sounded intriguing on the web.  Defective Yeti speaks highly of it and appears knowledgeable about games, so this is on our list.

The boys are still captivated by Legos and I don’t think I mentioned Playmobil last year.  They spend hours with these figures, building stuff.  You can spend a little and get the Pirate Crew or spend more and get the Playmobil Pirate Ship, for example.  The possibilities are endless here.

Boys love cars– buy some Hot Wheels as a stocking stuffer or cars and a Racing Set.

What about outdoor activities?

Porter can bounce a basketball while jumping on his Flybar Pogo Stick and I’m getting him some balls so he can practice juggling while jumping.  Porter has his eye on the Flybar 800 Pogo Stick which promises to hurl the pogo-er over four feet into the air.  Too bad for him, as I have no intention of letting a $200 “toy” that propels your child into space onto my property, but if you purchase it, let me know how it turns out.  We achieve plenty of air and the resulting bruises without added pistons.

Instead, we’re going the Ripstik Caster Board route, which is probably no safer but prevents you from watching your child purposely soar into the air.  The Ripstik is a two-wheeled skateboard that lets the rider pretend he is snowboarding… on asphalt.  Don’t forget the helmet and pads.

You can use Roller Blades or Inline Skates to race, or you can play roller basketball in them.  Porter can even rollerblade into a Port-O-Potty, do his business, and rollerblade out without falling.  What are we going to do with all his non-marketable skillz?

The Skateboard is back as well.


You know my stance, or should, so no talk about Game Boys and Wii here.

Last year Porter got a simple HP camera for Christmas.  You may remember seeing his highly successful retrospective on Portugal.  He also discovered that the camera takes movies, and that’s how we created the irresistible Yo Mama!  Finn enjoyed filming the action, while Drew proved particularly adept at editing with the Movie Maker program that came with our computer.

My point is that while there are digital cameras made especially for kids, like the Fisher Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera for Boys (they make a girls’ version also), you can spend a bit more and get a real camera.  The plastic ones would be good for the younger crowd, but an eight-year-old would enjoy having the features of Porter’s camera.  This HP Photosmart M447 5MP Digital Camera is still just under $100 if you purchase it with a 1G memory card.  Here’s a Kodak EasyShare C533 5MP Digital Camera.  I can’t believe the megapixels on these things.  Porter’s Portugal pictures were outstanding, and his camera has 5 MP.

We have NO videos of our children as babies, or toddlers, or at all.  That’s because early on, I told Bill that I could be in charge of raising children and taking still photos, or raising kids and shooting video, but not both.  He said he’d handle the videos, but remember those tiny cassettes?  The big black bag you had to lug around?  The way the battery was never charged?  It was a big pain in the ass.

The digital camcorders of today have changed all that, and we’re outsourcing our video requirements to Drew, who always has two free hands.
I saw the Aiptek DV5900 5MP Pocket Digital Camcorderat Target the other day.  Easy as pie, and tiny!

This Flip Video Camcorder: 60-Minutes (Black) is precious and apparently easy to use.  It doesn’t have a slot for extra memory, though.

Yeesh.  That’s a lot of ideas for one column, and I have to go make some Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Peanut Butter Brownies.  Hope this helps you finish your holiday list for the small fry.

Other helpful resources:

Terry White’s Gadget Gift Guide

The Men’s Gift Guide

Reid My Blog

Green Kids Gift Guide


Design*Sponge ($25 and under)

In The Trenches Of Motherhood


Cooking With Amy

Gratitude 365


  • Nicole

    We played Settlers of Catan this weekend. I had never heard of it before either. My husband who hates to play board games, loved it (we played 5 times in 3 days). I’m going to get it for him for Christmas.

  • Angie

    My friends (20-somethings) who love Settlers of Catan, also love “Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot”. We had so much fun playing it last year that we almost laughed ourselves under the table–and if you’re afraid that boys won’t like it, just wait until they can infect all the bunnies at the table with ebola virus. I’m getting a copy of it this year for my boyfriend. 🙂

  • KLee

    Something that my daughter loved that sounds RIGHT UP the boys’ alley: Moon Shoes. They’re like mini-trampolines for your feet! Offspring bounced around in those things for DAYS….

  • becky k

    here’s another resounding vote for Settlers of Catan. Hubby (he’s German and introduced it to me in the original form) and I love board games but this is one we can play over and over and over and over again! The genius of the game is that it changes each time you play it. But be warned, it’s orginally a German game so there are TONS of rules. Once you play a few times though, you find they repeat themselves and you get the hang of it.

  • MoMMY

    Personally, all 4 of my boys like the cranium games. The family edition is right for us now but we used to play Cadoo. The key is finding the right one for your mix of ages. Oh, and they all love Apples to Apples Jr.

  • MamaD4

    Damn you Anne Glamore, now I have the chorus of “Can’t Touch This” (or is it ‘Dis?) in my head and I can’t get it OUUUUUUTTTT!!

    It’s Hammer Time!

  • Kendra

    Is diary of a wimp ok for an 8yo? I just bought it and it looked great but I was concerned about the content at his age. Give it or wait a year or 2?

  • Kathy

    One thing my boys still love to read are the original Hardy Boys books. I found TONS (hardbacks!)at the North Shelby library for $1 each a few days ago.

    I’m too chicken to get them Ripsticks. They look like broken arm invitations to me. 🙂

  • Lynda

    You know, I’m not keen on brussels sprouts, but if someone was to prepare them with both bacon AND peanut butter brownies, I might be willing to try that! (Great gift ideas too, by the way!)

  • Cassie

    Another book recommendation. The Bone Books, a series of comics, Boo is in tears reading and re reading everyday.

    Good choices on gifts, you’ve given me some great ideas.

  • Mamaluv

    I love your suggestions, Anne! Just to mention a few more…

    My 8-yr old loves the Narnia series and it’s very readable for her while still offering up some new vocabulary.

    We own the original version of Catan and love it! Try also Carcassone – a landscape building game that’s a little simpler than Catan (rules wise) but still offers many levels of strategy that kids and parents can enjoy. I have also been collecting the classic board games; next on my list is Trouble and Mastermind.

    We bought some Legos at a garage sale a few years ago and will be ebay-ing for more. I also saw a large Tinkertoy set on sale at Costco. I’m a big fan of these kinds of toys that encourage kids to use their imagination.

    I’d love to pick up a cheap camcorder for the kids, but I think that one will have to wait until we’re clear of the smash ‘n crash stage.

  • Kelly

    Growing up in Alabama the boys have to read the 13 Alabama ghosts and Jeffrey. I’m taking my 9 year old to the library this weekend for it!

  • jo

    My 11 year old niece loves Apples to Apples. My sister likes it because it is building my niece’s vocabulary and it kind of forces you to strategize based on how well you know people. The downside, you have to have a min of 4 people to play.

  • Katherine

    I haven’t played Settlers of Catan myself, but I hear its good. We’ve played Carcassone and bunches of other German games. My BIL gives the boys a new unusual (mostly German) game each year for Christmas. Our current favorites are San Juan, Bohnanza and St. Petersburg. I appreciate the link to Defective Yeti for more cool games to consider.

    Please let us know how the Teen Proofing book is – my older boy is coming perilously close to becoming a teen!

  • K

    I am SUCH a Harry Potter nerd. Being 45 years old with 2 grown kids vaults me to nerd status. Have you read all the way to the end of the series? Thanks for your advice – I have two nephews age 8 and 7 and had no idea what to get them. One is an artist and one an electronics nut. Now I can go shopping.