There is nothing like grandparenthood to send you back where you hoped never to go again — toy stores at Christmas.
Keeping track of the season's must-haves for children was always fraught. Do you remember standing in line for a Cabbage Patch Kid in the early 1980s? Remember the Tickle Me Elmo crisis in the mid-1990s that sent prices as high as $1,500?
I expected similar stampedes this holiday season, but, remarkably, there doesn't seem to be a shortage of anything — except anything new.
The hottest items are remakes of previous hits, including Big Hugs Elmo, a new generation of Furbies, Nerf guns and Hot Wheels. My Little Pony is back, and so is Thomas the Train. And the American Girl Dolls have been updated.
But, according to retail industry surveys, the most "searched" toys this season are Barbie for her and Legos for him. Classics by any standard.
Toy manufacturers need strong movie or television tie-ins to go big on a new toy, and there wasn't a new Spider Man or X-Men release this year. Besides, toy sales have been flat since the market crash of 2008, and they aren't expected to do more than the $22 billion in sales in 2012.
There are a few modest toy tie-ins with television shows like Doc McStuffins, about a little girl who dreams of becoming a doctor. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, popular in the early 1990s, are back with a new show, so their stuff is on the shelves again, too.
A talking version of Sophia the First, another in a long line of Disney princesses, is out. She can repeat 30 phrases and can communicate with her animal friends. Those nasty girls from Monster High are this year's Bratz. But there is no toy making headlines this year. My 3-year-old grandson has his own iPad, so I think we can see the future from here.
Enter The Vermont Country Store holiday catalog. Established by the Orton Family in 1946, which advertises itself as "purveyors of the practical and hard-to-find," the catalog offers reproductions of toys from the 1930s through the 1970s that are so old they are new.
The Fisher-Price record player is "just like a real record player" and includes five records. The 1962 Chatter Phone with is ringing rotary dial. A play camera with a flash cube and a teaching clock with movable hands. Can't you just see the wonder in a child's eyes when he opens a record player on Christmas morning? How would you explain what they used to be?
For the older child the catalog offers a first edition Monopoly game with wooden houses and original artwork from 1935. Plus Uncle Wiggily and the Mystery Date game. Remember the Bozo the Clown bop bag? And a potholder-making loom with colored loops?
And because it is never too early to begin the political indoctrination of children, the "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to the Future Comic Coloring and Activity Book" is out, and it is the most popular children's coloring book on Amazon. On the cover is a drawing of the Texas senator next to a tea plant with words like "lower taxes," "gun rights" and "lower taxes" written on its leaves.
Inside, children can color pictures of Senator Cruz in hunting gear and filibustering at a podium. They can also learn about partial-birth abortion.
It is produced by Really Big Coloring Books as part of its "Tell the Truth — Tell it Often — Tell the Children" series that includes The Libertarian Party Coloring and Activity Book, with Ron Paul and John Stossel on the cover.
These are perfect gifts for children — when a baseball glove or a scooter just won't do.
Me? Last year, I scored big with a $5 plastic tool box filled with keys, measuring cups and spoons, Hot Wheels and chalk. This year, I am going with a miniature park ranger vest with lots of pockets filled with things like a small flashlight, a magnifying glass and a canteen.
I was tempted by the Despicable Me 2 Fart Blaster with banana scent. But I figured that would make me about as popular with the parents as a drum set would. And you don't want to start a nasty family holiday fight over a $4.99 coloring book.
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