Tag Archive: gift ideas


Review by C.J. Bunce

Which pair of characters exemplifies the best friendship in all of the Star Trek franchise?  Who do you think made the best BFFs?  How about Geordi and Data?  Or better yet, who represents friendship–its ups and downs–the best?  Like Tuvok and Neelix?  Kirk and Bones?  Or frenemies Bones and Spock?  Maybe for you its Worf and Riker, or Kes and the EMH.  Or Naomi Wildman and Seven of Nine, or Quark and Odo.  Of course there’s no right answer, but writers Robb Pearlmann and Jordan Hoffman explore the subject in a very fanboy conversation in the new gift book The Star Trek Book of Friendship The best part?  It’s filled with new artwork by the best Star Trek artist in the franchise’s 55 years, celebrated poster and comic book painter J.K. Woodward.  It’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon.

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Early this year The Strong’s National Museum of Play announced twelve finalists for induction into the 2021 National Toy Hall of Fame.  The contenders included nominees from previous years, including American Girl dolls, the Battleship board game, billiards (including pool), Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, the Fisher-Price Corn Popper, mahjong, Masters of the Universe action figures, piñatas, the Risk board game, sand, The Settlers of Catan board game, and toy fire engines.

Only three would take their honored places in the Hall this year when they were announced at a ceremony this week at The Strong in Rochester, New York.  The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes toys “that have engaged and delighted multiple generations, inspiring them to learn, create, and discover through play.”  Criteria for induction include: Icon-status (the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered); Longevity (the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations); Discovery (the toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play); and Innovation (the toy profoundly changed play or toy design).  A toy may be inducted on the basis of innovation without necessarily having met all of the first three.  So what made this year’s cut?  American Girl Dolls, the Risk board game, and sand–yep, look out Anakin Skywalker, your least favorite thing is one of the favored playthings of this world.

The Hall of Fame, which began in 1998, is celebrating its 23rd year.  Reviewing the 75 previous inductees should provide you with an incredible flashback of nostalgia: alphabet blocks, the Atari 2600 Game System, baby doll, Baby Nancy doll, ball, Barbie, bicycle, Big Wheel, blanket, bubbles, Candy Land, cardboard box, chalk, checkers, chess, Clue, coloring book, Crayola Crayons, dollhouse, dominoes, Duncan Yo-Yo, Dungeons & Dragons, Easy-Bake Oven, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Fisher-Price Little People, Frisbee, G.I. Joe, The Game of Life, Hot Wheels, Hula Hoop, jack-in-the-box, jacks, Jenga, jigsaw puzzle, jump rope, kite, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, little green army men, Magic 8 Ball, Magic: The Gathering, marbles, Matchbox car, Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Nintendo Game Boy, paper airplane, pinball, Play-Doh, playing cards, puppet, Radio Flyer Wagon, Raggedy Ann and Andy, rocking horse, roller skates, rubber duck, Rubik’s Cube, Scrabble, Silly Putty, skateboard, Slinky, Star Wars action figures, stick, Super Soaker, swing, teddy bear, Tinkertoy, Tonka Trucks, Twister, View-Master, Uno, and Wiffle Ball.

Which of these 12 toys would make your list for 2021?

The beauty of all these toys?  We did some of our own research and about 95% of them are still available for today’s generation of kids.  Just click the toy name above and you’ll find most available at Amazon right now.  Want to spoil your kid and get them one of each of the 78 toys in the Hall (or donate a set to your local community center)?  It’ll cost you about $1,840.

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Review C.J. Bunce

We have a bundle of holiday gift ideas heading into December, and this next one will bring in the younger set.  It’s an ideal book for kids, especially kids just reading their first books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  And it’s even better if they’ve checked out at least the first films in the movie series.  It’s Insight Editions’ Harry Potter:  Imagining Hogwarts–A Beginner’s Guide to Moviemaking.  It’s a great introduction to the principles of moviemaking, targeted at young grade schoolers through pre-teens.  It also doubles as an activity book.

Imagining Hogwarts is the kind of book that my grade school librarian always kept on the shelves–the kind of book to get kids excited and interested in unique and exciting professions, to create aspirations that could last a lifetime.  The book is a full-color, 64-page hardcover that touches on the key aspects of making movies, all applied to the Harry Potter films.  So readers can expect explanations of directing, camera work, screenplay writing, casting, the visual rule of thirds, storyboards, location scouts, set decoration, props, modelmaking, costumes, miniatures, concept art and design, special effects, and the post-production process.

Readers are taken through these concepts with an eye toward their applications in the movies, to learn more about the making of the wands, building the Hogwarts castle miniature, distressing costumes to look worn, and the use of doubles, as incorporated into the films when “Mad-Eye” Moody caused the members of the Order of the Phoenix to look like Harry.  More advanced concepts include green and blue screens, transitions and dissolves, and wire effects.

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“Adult coloring books” are a fairly recent phenomenon.  Over the past few years the adult coloring book has even taken on its own form, like the BBC’s Sherlock coloring book, which is published at just less than ten inches by ten inches square, differentiating its style and contents from the vertical designed books of decades past.  But the new field of books often have design flaws, like publishing an image that spans the fold line (no one since they were little kids have liked that feature in a coloring book, right?) or images that appear to have been drawn quickly, with little attention toward realism, or, for subjects like movie tie-ins, outright failing to match licensed character actor likenesses.  Luckily DC Comics comic book superhero fans won’t find those failings in two coloring books in current release from Insight Editions.

Both DC Comics Coloring Book and DC Comics Wonder Woman Coloring Book rate among the best coloring books you will find for kids or adults, ideal as inexpensive gifts this holiday season.  Both include images of original comic book artwork, used in marketing, for posters or promotions, and both feature original comic book cover artwork.  As an appendix, many of the covers are featured in full glossy color, so anyone who wants to reference the original color work can easily do so.  The only detractor is that neither book references the artists responsible for either the cover artwork or the included page art.  For most, they won’t notice, and this just be a great excuse to color some of the best images of the pantheon of superheroes from DC Comics ever released.

The DC Comics Coloring Book includes 96 pages and the DC Comics Wonder Woman Coloring Book includes 80 pages (both include 15 pages of full-color reference prints).  In the DC Comics book you’ll find covers to classic comic book issues, like Green Lantern 76 and 87, Showcase #4, Flash Comics #1, The New Teen Titans #1, and several All Star Comics and Justice League of America covers.  The Wonder Woman book includes covers from Wonder Woman #1, Justice League of America #12, Comic Cavalcade covers, and several other covers from various Wonder Woman-titled series.

Here are some preview pages from each:

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The Strong’s National Museum of Play has announced twelve finalists for induction into the 2018 National Toy Hall of Fame.  Only a select few will take their honored places in the Hall this year when they are announced at a ceremony at The Strong in Rochester, New York on Thursday, November 8, 2018.  The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes toys “that have engaged and delighted multiple generations, inspiring them to learn, create, and discover through play.”  The Hall of Fame, which began in 1998, is celebrating its 20th year.  Criteria for induction include: Icon-status (the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered); Longevity (the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations); Discovery (the toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play); and Innovation (the toy profoundly changed play or toy design).  A toy may be inducted on the basis of innovation without necessarily having met all of the first three.  So who are this year’s finalists?  American Girl Dolls, chalk, Chutes and Ladders, the Fisher-Price Corn Popper, the Magic 8 Ball, Masters of the Universe, pinball, the sled, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tickle Me Elmo, Tudor Electric Football, and the card game Uno.

Reviewing the 65 previous inductees should provide you with an incredible flashback of nostalgia: alphabet blocks, the Atari 2600 Game System, baby doll, ball, Barbie, bicycle, Big Wheel, blanket, bubbles, Candy Land, cardboard box, checkers, chess, Clue, Crayola Crayons, dollhouse, dominoes, Duncan Yo-Yo, Dungeons & Dragons, Easy-Bake Oven, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Fisher-Price Little People, Frisbee, G.I. Joe, The Game of Life, Hot Wheels, Hula Hoop, jack-in-the-box, jacks, jigsaw puzzle, jump rope, kite, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, little green army men, marbles, Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Nintendo Game Boy, paper airplane, Play-Doh, playing cards, puppet, Radio Flyer Wagon, Raggedy Ann and Andy, rocking horse, roller skates, rubber duck, Rubik’s Cube, Scrabble, Silly Putty, skateboard, Slinky, Star Wars action figures, stick, Super Soaker, swing, teddy bear, Tinkertoy, Tonka Trucks, Twister, View-Master, and Wiffle Ball.

This year’s 12 finalists for the National Toy Hall of Fame.  Which would you choose?

The beauty of all these toys?  We did some of our own research and they are still available for today’s generation of kids.  Just click the toy name and you’ll find it available at Amazon right now.  Want to spoil your kid and get them one of each of the 65 toys in the Hall (or donate a set to your local community center)?  It’ll cost you about $1,390.  That total is skewed a bit by the more expensive toys on the list:  the current equivalent of the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Gameboy, a bicycle, a dollhouse, an Easy Bake Oven, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, and roller skates.  Yet eight toys in the Hall can be purchased for less than $5.00, 24 toys cost less than $10.00, and 50 of the 65 toys in the Hall cost less than $25.00–most of the classics are pretty affordable!  And if you want to save your money, how about getting your kid a cardboard box, a paper airplane, a kite, and a stick for Christmas this year–they’re pretty much free.

What do you think is missing?  How about Spiro-graph?  The Fisher-Price telephone and See ‘n’ Say?  Shrinky Dinks, Colorforms, and the Kaleidoscope?  Finger paints?  The sprinkler?  Playskool cobbler’s bench and mailbox?  Hello Kitty?  Past nominees include Battleship, Care Bears, coloring books, Jenga, Lite Brite, Matchbox cars, My Little Pony, Nerf, Pez, Playmobil, pogo stick, Operation, Pac-Man, pots and pans, Risk, sand, scooter, Slip ‘n’ Slide, stilts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and the top.

Here are the Hall of Fame’s descriptions of each of this year’s nominees:

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Not since the Marx Toys line of accessory-laden “Noble Knights” action figures in the late 1960s and early 1970s have we seen a toy line that looks this much fun.  It’s the new Mattel Barbie line of Wonder Woman collector line “dolls,” but let’s call them what they are, action figures that measure up to any mid-range price-point doll or action figure on the market.  Even more fun, these Amazon warriors will stand tall over your other 12-inch action figures.

Sure, Mattel is targeting this new line at the “adult collector” (although the figures are listed as recommended for 10 and up).  But what girl or boy isn’t going to appreciate the great armor designs, and the attention to detail in the shields and swords?  No doubt with the critical acclaim and popularity of the new film–already netting more than $103 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. and $223 million internationally–this series is poised to be the toy line of the summer.

 

Each individual figure–Diana, Antiope, and Hippolyta–includes headdress, boots, armored gauntlets, shield, and sword.  Diana and Hippolyta also include capes and Antiope includes bow, arrows, and quiver.  A two-pack is also available, featuring Diana in a different design and Steve Trevor.  Designer Bill Greening blended the face designs to keep the classic Barbie and Ken look while also reflecting the images of actors Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and Chris Pine.  All figures include fully articulated sculpts.

Check out these images of the full designs, plus click on each image below for more information on each and to purchase these new Barbie figures while they are still available (Wonder Woman is sold out on many sites):

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sw-clue-3d

Countless Hasbro, Parker Brothers, and Milton Bradley games have been re-released incorporating every genre favorite from The Lord of the Rings to the Harry Potter series, and from Firefly to The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones You can pull off your classic game shelf the original Monopoly, Risk, Clue, or Trivial Pursuit, or mix up the game night a bit with the tie-in version of your favorite movie or TV series.  Although a The Walking Dead seems like it would be a better mash-up with Sorry! than The Game of Life or The Walking Dead Jenga, some of the tie-ins seem well-matched (like Sherlock Clue, Downton Abbey Clue, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens BB-8 Operation!).

Ready for this holiday season, Hasbro is releasing a new Star Wars Clue game this month.  And the plot of the game is nicely timed to tie with the plot of December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  The goal is to locate the plans to the Death Star, figure out who stashed them, and determine the best route to escape.

star-wars-clue

This beautiful new game is Star Wars gold for two reasons.  First, it’s a twist on Clue (Cluedo in the UK) and Clue is always fun if you get enough people to play.  “But I already have seven versions of Clue plus Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly!” you say.  This one adds some three-dimensional color for good family night play.  And that new 3D take is the second reason this is sure to be a fun, new game: It evokes the great cardboard-backed action figure playsets from the 1970s, like the Creature Cantina, the Hoth AT-AT Playset, the Cloud City Playset, and even the wall inserts on the full-sized Death Star playset.  It also looks a bit like the classic Sub Search from Milton Bradley.

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Lego Beetle

Everything is awesome when it comes to LEGO building bricks.  When I was a kid the holy grail of toys was the LEGO Technic Expert Builder Chassis set, released in 1980.  If you wanted to understand how cars function, that was the set to learn from.  It sold for more than $125 back then and now on eBay they can fetch more than $1,500.  The best part of the early Technic sets was that they didn’t fudge the basic LEGO pieces for the sake of design.  Which is why the current LEGO Creator line is full of great options.

Probably the most fun is the coming release of the classic Volkswagen Beetle.  Check out the instructions on the LEGO website for the new Volkswagen Beetle here for an idea of the detailed engine design.  And you’ll see that the design is true to the basic LEGO building blocks, meaning you get to learn to hone your creativity by adapting to the basic LEGO building pieces.  You can pre-order the VW Beetle now here from Amazon, expected to ship around the first of the year.

But if you can’t wait that long, don’t fret.  LEGO has already released some other cool car building sets as well as some nifty buildings.  If you’re not in the market for LEGO sets right now, they are still fun to gawk at.  Like this earlier Volkswagen release, the camper van:

Volkswagen camper van

Our band director had one of these and this design is dead on.  You can order the Volkswagen van now here from Amazon.

Or how about this Mini Cooper?

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Play Doh SW

Some toys are timeless.  Once upon a time I or one of my siblings received every single gift on this list under the Christmas tree, and we got hours and hours of use out of these.  Some bring out the creative in us.  Some are just plain fun.  But all of them are classics, and we’re lucky that, with a little effort we can still find each of them, if not under the original brand name, then re-marketed but containing the full spirit of the original.  Check these out, listed in no particular order, with links to the quickest way to find these for your gift giving list via Amazon.com.

Viewmaster

View-Master — If you’re not interested in recently available subject matter reels for this classic 3D image camera, then go to any antique sale in any town and you’ll likely find boxes of the old packets of three reels, ranging in subjects anywhere from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, to the Apollo Moon Landing to The Six Million Dollar Man TV series to every travel destination on Earth.  All you need is a basic viewer.  We picked up an original Sawyer’s black 1939 camera on a visit to the birthplace of the View-Master, Portland, Oregon, and it works the same as the classic 1970s red one you remember.  The same mechanism still runs today’s viewers.  Just grab yourself (or that person on your gift list) some reels and get started.

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the-dark-knight-trilogy-blu-ray

No matter who you are buying gifts for this Christmas season, when all else fails you can always please friends and family with their favorite films on Blu-Ray or DVD.  Like every year you can pick up the big releases of the year, like The Avengers, Brave, and Men in Black 3.  This season four very different boxed set releases are available for the first time, and may appeal to your favorite diehard movie fans.

For smaller budgets, fans of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films will be eager to receive the trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises all in one place, with The Dark Knight Trilogy Giftset.  Continue reading

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