Chances are if you haven’t started your toy-buying-for-toddlers activities this year, you’ve at least been thinking about it. But with the plethora of toys on the market, where do you begin? Some common sense prevails – no sharp edges, no shooting parts, no lead paint. Beyond that, be sure to read the boxes and labels for pertinent safety information and age appropriateness.

The younger children are often unable to tell us what they would enjoy, but we can always make an educated guess based on their current activities. My grandson can’t get enough vehicles to rev up and push along the floor. It’s a safe bet he’ll get a few more this holiday season, but you could also try to expand their horizons with a toy completely beyond their current realm of playthings and experiences.

I’ve always found books a good place to start. Even when I purchase items for a Giving Tree child, whether or not they ask for a book, they get one anyway, as a bonus.

Sarah Potvin, manager of the children’s book section at Mr. Paperback in Lewiston, suggests “board books” – those crafted with thick, cardboard pages – for the two and under set. She recommends “The Napping House,” ($6.95) published in 1984 and written by Audrey Wood – a rhyming story about a house where everyone is taking a nap. “It has a soothing rhythm, and it’s all about sleeping,” she said. “The illustrations (by Don Wood) start out in subdued colors, and then everybody starts to wake up, and the colors get more vibrant.”

Also on her short list is “Gallop!” ($12.95) by Rufus Butler Seder and currently on the best-seller list. “It’s cool because of the ‘scanimation’ where the pictures move as you turn the pages. “There’s a small amount of text, and it’s about what the animals are doing.”

For the same age group, Pamela Farmer at Waldenbooks at the Auburn Mall suggests “Good Night, Maine” by Adam Gamble and “Fifteen Animals” by Sandra Boynton. “The first is very similar to ‘Good Night, Moon,’ a classic children’s book, but this one is with a Maine theme,” she explained. “It’s simple, colorful illustrations and short sentences make this a perfect gift for very small children.” The second is a new endeavor from Boynton “about a bunch of animals named Bob,” Farmer said. This one comes with a Web site to download a copy of the song that accompanies the book.

For the 3- to 4-year olds, Farmer suggests “Swing!” – another of Seder’s works, describing it as “mesmerizing.” She also recommends “It’s Time to Sleep, My Love,” written by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Nancy Tillman. “The illustrations in this book are stunning,” she said. “The book is beautifully written, and children will fall asleep knowing they are loved.”

This same age group can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who,” originally published in 1954. “It’s my favorite,” Potvin said. “Any Seuss is a nice gift, but the message in this is so good, it’s in rhyme, and it tells a great story.” Horton, an elephant, hears a noise, finds a speck and discovers people living on the speck, she related. “He has to save them, and he learns to believe in things he can’t see.”

Also on her list for the slightly older group is “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney, published in 1994 and illustrated by Anita Jeram. It’s about Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare who try to one-up each other when expressing the difficult-to-measure love between a parent and child, she said.

On the toy side, really young children up to age two or so are often happy with the simplest of items – shape sorters, mock cell phones, large wooden puzzles or a bowling set. Three- and four-year-olds love to emulate the adults in their lives with faux vacuum cleaners or a beginner’s musical instrument. It might be time for their first choo choo train or a youngster’s art kit.

Children in these age groups can be challenged with educational toys like those from Discovery or Young Explorers.com, where you won’t find typical, mainstream toys advertised on TV. This can be very helpful if you don’t know the inventory a child already has in stock and want to make fairly sure you won’t duplicate everyone else’s purchases.

When all else fails, a gift certificate to a toy or book store will do, but a promissory note of a shopping excursion with YOU at a later date might just be the best present of all.


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