Even if you know exactly what you're going to buy, Christmas shopping in December is hectic. If you've no idea and have got to go hunting for the perfect gift, it can turn the peaceful season into a bit of a stressful nightmare.
Shopping for children is particularly tricky, especially if you're a grandparent, auntie or uncle and have no clue what's popular or appropriate for their age.
For the second year, The Telegram put together a panel of mini-testers and their parents to try out some of the best selling toys of the holiday season from toy giant Mattel and downtown St. John's toy shop Gingersnap and offer their thoughts.
This year, Mattel's focus has been on interactive toys, re-vamped classics and technology-enhanced gadgets, said Tarra Stubbins of Toronto-based Take it Easy Personal Concierge Inc., and Mattel's "Holiday Helper" for this year.
The company has stuck to the basics with some of their top selling Christmas toys, like the Barbie Charm School Bed and Bath playset and Bezzerwizzer board game, but added new twists to others.
There's the UNO Roboto card game, which comes with a talking robot; Barbie Designable Hair Doll, which allows users to design hairstyles which they can print and clip on Barbie or themselves; and the Hot Wheels Video Racer Micro Camera Car, with has a camera inside it and a screen to view exactly what a tiny Hot Wheels driver would see. The car can be used on any Hot Wheels track, or can be attached to a bike, skateboard or helmet so kids can record their own action-packed adventure.
"I think that Mattel really does know that they have to upgrade their toys. They have to move with technology, but they always have the classic items. It's taking that memory and the history of it and updating it for today's world," Stubbins said.
"In today's society, we get bored of things fast. The kids might get bored of that Uno (card) game they've been playing for a really long time, but they can now take the Uno Roboto and still play the same games."
Gingersnap's owner, Janet Murphy, says her store takes a more classic approach to toys, and she prides herself on offering a selection of items that is often nostalgic, with many things exclusive in this province to Gingersnap.
"We like to sell special things, and things become a little less special when everyone is selling them," she explained.
Gingersnap is the only shop in the province to carry dolls by French company Corolle, which have proven to be top sellers not only during this holiday season, but since Murphy started carrying them a couple of years ago.
The different versions of the dolls are appropriate for newborns and up, and range in price from $12.99 to $125, the most expensive one a large interactive baby doll which speaks four different languages. They're all lightly scented.
"Corolle calls it the 'perfume of childhood,' and that's exactly what it smells like. It reminds you of the dolls you had when you were little," Murphy said.
"These dolls really appeal to the little girl in me. They're colourful, their eyes really draw you in and every detail is accounted for. They're very wholesome."
One of Gingersnap's newest lines is Plan Toys, makers of eco-friendly, classic toys, coloured with soy-based inks and manufactured from natural rubber and wood from trees that are left unfertilized for the last few years before they're harvested. While eco-friendly wasn't a path Murphy intentionally followed, Gingersnap being a classic toy store, it definitely has benefits for some customers, she said.
"What I liked about Plan Toys is that they are colourful and reasonably priced. Most eco-friendly toys are uncoloured and expensive," Murphy said.
Both Murphy and Stubbins say their companies have ways of helping customers who might be stuck on a specific gift for a certain child, and are more than happy to do so.
"If a customer can tell us the gender, age and a little bit about the child, we will walk around the store with them and help them choose the perfect gift," Murphy said, adding her store also does custom/special orders and will ship outside of St. John's.
Many items are posted on Gingersnap's Facebook group, Murphy said, offering customers the opportunity to pick out gifts from home.
Mattel has launched a "gift finder" on its website, www.mattel.ca, where customers can enter a child's gender and age and find out the most popular toys of the season.
"It will give you recommendations and will link you to stores in your neighbourhood that carry the toys," Stubbins explained "You don't have to run around, which saves a lot of time during the holiday season."
Mattel toys are available locally at stores like Sears, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Zellers. Gingersnap is located at 202 Water St.
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Ally Kats Sparkling Powder Puff (available at Gingersnap, $12.99) Tested by Teaghan Squires, 5
Teaghan says: "It's just like skin-sparkling magic! That's what fairies wear!"
Mom Dara Squires says: "I love the no-mess design. No powder or sparkles all over the house and even if she took the puff and rubbed it on the walls, it would wipe off easily. The ingredients are all safe and the sparkle comes from mica which is even approved as a food additive. The pink container and 'diamond' silk band on the puff itself definitely add to the princess girly appeal, though they didn't stop my sons from wanting to try as well. I'm not sure how many applications it will last for, but my daughter has sparkled her entire face, her brothers' faces and mine and it's still going strong."
Corolle Dolly Marshmallow (available at Gingersnap, $32) Tested by Kylie Bradbury, 2 1/2
Kylie says: "Her name is Kylie, because she's beautiful like me."
Mom Nichole Bradbury says: "Kylie loves this doll. She has soft hair and she smells like ice cream. Kylie kept asking me 'What does she do?' because she's used to electronic dolls. This is a great first doll for a younger child."
Barbie Charm School Bed and Bath playset (Mattel, approximately $40) Tested by Teaghan Squires, 5
Teaghan says: "I love it so much, I can't eat supper. I have to keep playing with it! Even though the brush is really small, it still works. I can brush Barbie's hair. It has everything I need. I wish it came with Barbie."
Mom Dara Squires says: "I love the way the set closes up into a take-along case, and the case is just the right size for (Teaghan) to carry. I worry, though, that the clip that holds it together when folded doesn't seem very strong- I can definitely see that this is a case that I'm going to have to closely supervise the opening and closing of. A similar worry is that there are many small pieces in this set, but there's no place to put them away; they jumble in there when you close the case. However, there's also extra space to fit a Barbie doll and some extra items. The imaginative play potential with this set is endless. (Teaghan) and my three-year-old son have been playing with the set for hours already, hashing out different storylines and adding in their own toys to increase its potential."
Plan Toys Plancity Fire Station (available at Gingersnap, $45) Tested by Ethan Bradbury, 2
Mom Nichole Bradbury says: "The fire station and accessories are made of solid wood and are very sturdy, and Ethan and Kylie were practically fighting over it. There's a fireman who can easily be manipulated with tiny hands to go from a standing to sitting position, and the bell on the firehouse isn't loud, which is great."
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks Starter Set (Mattel, approximately $43) Tested by Harrison and Emerson Squires, ages 7 and 3
Harrison says: "I love how fast the car goes, and you can add more tracks. I wish my other Hot Wheels cars worked on it. Why don't they go as fast? They keep getting stuck."
Mom Dara Squires says: "The wall-mount is Mommy's dream at clean-up time. This track is mounted to the wall and it touches the floor at the end, so you can still add the traditional tracks to extend the course. Set-up was easy - it comes with a wall chart and the brackets are idiot-proof for proper mounting. My only caveat? The instructions say for best results, the brackets should be left for one hour before the tracks are mounted. If you want to follow those instructions, you better set it up when your children are not around because the 15 or 20 minutes it takes to get the brackets mounted properly is long enough for them. The biggest drawback to the system is that you seem to need a special wall tracks car for it to work properly. While there is one car included in the set, it would have been a lot better if we could use some of the umpteen million Hot Wheels cars we currently own as well. I can envision it lasting for at least a couple of years around my rough crowd.
Flingshot Flying Monkey (available at Gingersnap, $9.99) Tested by Harrison and Emerson Squires, ages 7 and 3
Mom Dara Squires says: "What's not to love? The noise? Oh yeah, the noise (the monkey screams as it flies through the air). But it's the sound of fun. He's soft and light enough that even though he's a slingshot you don't need to worry about your pictures being knocked off the walls or that antique lamp crashing to the floor. He's easy to use and the helmet and cape are a great added touch, setting this monkey apart from similar noise-making, slingshotting products on the market. I don't have anything negative to say about this product. Just don't bring it to church or the theatre and you'll be fine."
Uno Roboto (Mattel, approximately $45) Tested by Noah Bailey, 10
Noah says: "My family and friends loved this game. It's fun and easy to play. You get to record your name and your own 'house rule.' The robot directs the play and you have to be on your toes and listen to what he says. Your recorded voice sounds a little squeaky and can be very funny. I would recommend it for anyone six years and up."
Dad Doug Bailey says: "Great family game and lots of fun! It brought us back to the basics: family night and laughing."