Tag Archive: gift ideas

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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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.


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.


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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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

Like the gift ideas we posted two days ago here for Star Wars, Batman is the subject of several new or recent offerings available at retail stores and online.  We think the following items will rank high on every Bat-fan’s want list:

At the high end of the spectrum is the slick and flashy Batman Chess Set from the Noble Collection.  The Batman symbol illuminates 50 LED lights encircling the clear playing surface that lights the board and the Gotham cityscape underneath and projects a Bat-Signal to the sky.  The board features villains Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and the Penguin and heroes Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon (we think Gordon’s sculpt is the coolest).  The gameboard measures 20 inches in length on each side.  Playing pieces are made of pewter and diecast metal.  The stylish set lists for $595.00.  There’s still time to order to arrive for Christmas.  More info is available at the Noble Collection website.

Next up reminds me of a similar set I had as a kid, the Batman Batmobile Gotham City Dual Slot Car racing Set by Auto World.  It includes 28 feet of track that can be reconfigured five ways.  It includes two cars for two racers.  There is a also a 49 foot long track version called Joker’s Challenge and a smaller version called Ridler’s Revenge.  I remember spending hours racing Trans Ams around and around.  This would be a good gift for your nephew, knowing you may end up at the family celebration racing your nephew’s dad instead.  You can find these easily for $150.00.

Listing for $100.00 but for sale as low as $63.00 is The Batman Files by Matthew Manning.  The Batman Files is a dossier of Batman as if Batman operated in the real world.  As reader, you get immersed in the midn of the world’s greatest detective.  This deluxe edition features in-depth computer files, news articles, crime scene photos, blueprints, schematics, and actual maps of Gotham City.

Next up is a beautiful hardbound edition of a new tale called Batman: NoelWe haven’t reviewed this yet here, but we’ve read it and liked it, enough to recommend it as a new classic Christmas tale.  It’s not a perfect story by any means, but its take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is original and Lee Bermejo’s paintings are drawn in a nice classic style.  Batman: Noel sells for $22.99, but it’s about half that price at Amazon.com.

A few weeks ago we reviewed the stellar Batman: Hush Unwrapped, Deluxe Edition, a reprint of Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s masterwork of the dark knight detective, only in this version you get to see the original comic pencil work of Jim Lee, before inked and before colors were added.  Check out our review here, then see for yourself why this is a brilliant work worth hours of studying one of the best Batman artists in years.

For stocking stuffers, pick up one or two copies of the DC Comics New 52 issues, mainy in reprint form now, like Batman, Dark Knight, or Detective Comics.  Each of issues 1 through 4 is available for $2.99.

C.J. Bunce



First of all, if we were going to talk about the best sci-fi gifts ever, we would take a lot more than one article covering that, but it may very well include the Star Wars Death Star Playset for Star Wars 4-inch action figures, which despite a lot of Star Wars toy remakes, has yet to be remade.  Ohh…that giant box, the trash compactor with its own DiaNoga monster ready to gobble up Luke and his friends, a chasm for Luke and Leia to swing across, a Guns of Navarone style cannon ready to explode, and even an elevator…what a great playset!  Oh, but that’s not what we’re talking about today…

Since the Death Star playset, I’m not sure I can think of a cooler Star Wars toy than the 2010 Remote-Controlled Millenium Falcon.  It’s fun for kids and adults (it says it is for 8 years and up), as can be attested to by yours truly and a certain local comic book shop owner I know.  With flight times up to 5 minutes and recharges of only about 20 minutes, you can play with this straight from the box.  Yep, it’s plug & play.  The remote control has a 30 foot range and can hover forwards, backwards and sideways.  Whoever designed this was a genius.  It operates from a centralized rotor system as a helicopter, that allows it to hover over eight feet straight up and the controls allow for stable flights, that, with a little work, can reflect some sweet maneuvers.  The body is styrofoam, which allows for lightweight lift and zero damage to objects in the house.  Outside this will soar, too, although it is designed for indoor flight.  It lists at $50, but I found a stack of these at TJ Maxx for $19.99.  I’ve seen these at $50 still, too, so that TJ Maxx can’t be passed up.


The next item was previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year and actually sold out there.  It’s the Han Solo in Carbonite Ice Cube Tray.  That’s right.  Ice cube tray.   As iconic imagery goes, what’s cooler than your own mini-Han, ready for Boba Fett to transport away… in his glass of iced tea.  I hear this works well with chocolate, too.  You can find these at comic shops and all over the Web for under $10.00.

A couple of books, because everyone needs more books.  First up, The Complete Vader.  I flipped through this new book this weekend and it will hold any Star Wars fan’s attention with great photos and content.  Impressive… most impressive.  It was co-written by one of the creators of the Star Wars Vault, a good thing, and this feels like its own addition to the Vault series, including pull out items and inserts like film cells.  It lists for $60, but you can get it on the Web for $30.

The second book up is The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, which was released last year.  It will take you a year to get through this as it is chock full of everything you want to know about your favorite Star Wars movie.  Lots of great interviews, behind the scenes photos and insight behind the creative process of making a sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, like adding new characters and locations.  This book is pricy, released at $85.00 you can get it for around $50.00 if you shop around.   It will be worth it for the big Empire fan.


How about Star Wars decals for your computer, iPad, car window, etc.?  You can get one for everyone starting at $1.49 each.  Would make a great stocking stuffer.


And if you know someone who is still collecting Star Wars action figures, the 2011 Vintage Card Action Figure Series look just like the original packaging from 1978, only they include updated figures and new characters not originally available.  These can be found anywhere–Target, WalMart, Toys R Us–starting at around $7.00 each.

And last, but not least… I’m not sure how good you have to be for Santa to bring you this giant set:  Death Star Trench Run Set.  It includes the full Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter as well as two action figures.  “Back when I was a kid” they didn’t include action figures.  If bigger is better, then this set is the best.  The price range on this one varies from $110.00 to $150.00.

C.J. Bunce