Q. We are definitely an interfaith family. I’m Catholic and go to church every Sunday, my husband is Presbyterian and doesn’t go to church at all, and our daughter is an Episcopalian and married to a Jew. Their family goes to church and to temple, but only on their high holy days.
They also give both Hanukkah and Christmas presents to their 8-year-old daughter and to their two sons, ages 4 and 12, and so, of course, do we, even though our son-in-law says that Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, even though it lasts eight days.
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed however, since Hanukkah began on Thanksgiving this year, as it does every 77,798 years, and suddenly I found myself shopping for a turkey and making pies while buying each grandchild a big present on the first day and the last day of Hanukkah and little presents each day in between and a big Christmas present for each of them. And I don’t even know what games, what toys and what books my grandchildren want this year. What’s hot? What’s not?
A. Your grandchildren probably want the console and the video games that are advertised the most and the toys which are usually the ones licensed and heavily promoted. Unfortunately, trendy toys seldom keep a child’s interest for long, so let their parents buy them.
You want to give your grandchildren the kind of toys they will play with day after day and treasure forever. And that means that these toys should be simple, sturdy and inspire children to play with them in many different ways; their CDs should be entertaining enough to make them want to sing and dance, and their books should make them want to read them again. And again. And again.
It’s the “again” factor that matters with any toy, game or book. Whatever you buy for your grandchildren should make them want to play with it or hear it or read it over and over, which leads us straight to Sparkup. At $60, this revolutionary gadget would be a perfect big gift for your 4-year-old grandson especially if you don’t see him very often or if his parents can’t always get home in time to read to him. Sparkup will record you (or anyone) who reads a picture book and then let your grandson clip the book to hear your voice as he turns the pages, but if he skips a page, Sparkup will skip it too. If he stops turning the pages, it will stop too. Sparkup will also let his mom download a prerecorded book for him, such as “The Night-Night Songs” written by Kim Mitzo Thompson and Karen Mitzo Hilderbrand, with music by Hal Wright ($10). If he wants to dance and clown around however, give him “Morning Wish Garden” by the Ohmies (Ohmazing Tunes; $10). It started as a New York musical but it’s a must-have album now.
A big present for a pre-K — either for Christmas or Hanukkah — would be the prize-winning LeapPad Ultra learning tablet (LeapFrog; $150) which teaches reading, math and science, has eight gigabytes of memory, 11 apps, kid-safe WiFi, a nine-hour battery, a camera, a video recorder, and an art studio. It’s hard for a child to break it, too.
Depending on his interests, your older grandson should like “Physics” by Tom Jackson (Shelter Harbor Press; $25), on the 100 breakthroughs that changed history, or “The Top 10 of Everything in
Sports” (Sports Illustrated; $20) but probably not both. Or give him “Candy Experiments” by Loralee Leavitt (McMeel; $15), which turns candy into science and science into fun. Another option: encourage your family to pool its money on shareagift.com to buy the super-grand gift he really wants.
For your 8-year-old granddaughter, there’s Zip-It, a board game without a board, because it can be won or lost in one exciting minute (Bananagrams; $15). And if she’s artistic, there’s “Yoga for Your Brain” — Kidz Edition, please — by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (Fox Chapel Publishing; $10), or if she’s a fashion diva, a packet of waterproof, pierce-free, non-toxic earrings (Poppy Drops; $7). They’re cheap and irresistible.
If your granddaughter is mad for dolls, however, you could buy the amusing, feather-light dragon who wears his heart on his sleeve, the fat king who tucks his heart in his shirt or the princess, the fairy, the cat and the elf whose hearts are painted on — or not. They’re taken from a book called “The Princess and the Happiness” by Ulf Stark and cost $3-15 at Ikea, but if you buy them between now and Jan. 4, the Ikea Foundation will give $1 of each sale to send a child to school.
And may this encourage you to give your grandchildren the present that every child should get for Hanukkah and Christmas: the chance to give to others. If you help them collect $10, www.heifer.org will buy a share of a pig for a poor family. If you can gather $21, worldvision.org will buy three ducks so some other family can eat eggs all year — and eat and sell some ducklings, too.
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