Metro Parent 2014 Holiday 'It' List Gift Guide

Want to find the coolest toys in the neighborhood? Look no further than your friendly independent toy store. For our annual “Holiday ‘It’ List,” Metro Parent wanted to give southeast Michigan parents a decidedly hometown twist. So we hit up some smart, savvy and, most importantly, super-fun shop owners in each of the four counties we cover, in metro Detroit and beyond.

Our resident toy experts included Wendy Bacon and Rick Claggert, co-owners of Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy in St. Clair Shores (Macomb County); Stacey Zagrodzki, president and buyer at The Doll Hospital & Toy Solider Shop in Berkley (Oakland County); Jan Benzinger, co-owner at Mudpuddles Toy in Ann Arbor (Washtenaw County); and Lisa Laing, owner of My Hobby Place & Toy in Livonia (Wayne County).

Click through the following pages to find a whopping 49 educational, engaging, creative, scientific, open-ended, unique or, frankly, just-plain cool gift ideas. From toys to games, this list is sure to cover every kid on your list – boys and girls, toddlers up to teens teens, special needs and more – even stuff the entire family can get in on. So get clicking … and happiest holiday wishes!

An east-side staple, Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy is stocked to the gills with gobs of exciting gifts. Sibling co-owners Wendy Bacon and Rick Claggert are predicting plenty of games, Melissa & Doug classics and Playmobil picks for the 2014 holiday season. The brother-sister team combed through the impressive stock at their Macomb County store. Here’s what they shouted out as their top seasonal choices.

Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy

  • Address: 21714 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores
  • Phone: 586-771-6770
  • Holiday hours: Nov. 28-Dec. 23: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; Dec. 24: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; closed Dec. 25

K’s Kids Hungry Pelican by Melissa & Doug

Wee ones explore basic feeding concepts in a tactile way as they fill this cuddly buddy’s squeak-able big bill (and tummy) with four aquatic appetizers. Great for special needs.

9 months+. $24.99.

Tolo First Friends Train Set

All aboard for toddler fun! This cute choo-choo kit features an electric train that runs on a 10-piece track that’s a snap for kids to build.

Ages 1-5. $79.99.

Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop!

Want to get kids amped about chores? The secret is to make it fun early on. This six-piece helps with a colorful mop, broom and more.

Ages 3+. $29.99.

Madame Alexander Favorite Friends

Synonymous with quality dolls, this brand delivers with its line of 18-inch pals. “Let It Snow” features her best red winter boots, hat and vest.

Ages 3+. $59.95.

Blue Orange Games’ Spot It!: Match & Learn Doc McStuffins and Jake and the Never Land Pirates

A hot pick for several seasons now, this fun matching game now features some of kids fave licensed characters. For 2-6 players.

Ages 3+. $19.99.

Playmobil Fairy Queen’s Ship and Pirates Ship with RC Underwater Motor

Tub or pool play gets a German twist with these high-quality building sets from the perennially popular brand. A simple rudder or radio control technology powers each, respectively.

Ages 4-10, $38.99 and ages 7-12, $99.99.

Ravensburger Disney’s Frozen Winter Adventures Puzzles

What’s cooler than three puzzles in one set, featuring Elsa, Anna and Olaf? Each one has 49 pieces, making this set perfect for your little princess.

Ages 5+. $11.99.

Pokemon Trading Card Game by PKA

Featuring 60 cards, these 2014 XY-themed Pokemon decks feature either Xerneas (Resilient Life) or Yveltal (Destruction Rush).

Ages 6-plus. $12.99.

Creativity For Kids Grow n’ Glow Terrarium

Budding botanists can turn a plastic mason-style jar into a tiny glowing habitat complete with grass seeds, garden figurines and river stones.

Ages 6+. $14.99.


The four-color electronic game is back, with three ways to play. Repeat the sequences of flashing lights and sounds to win. For 1-2 players.

Ages 7+. $24.99.

Estes Proto X Remote Control Helicopter

This small, radio-controlled “quadcopter” is designed for indoor use; it even self-corrects regardless of the direction that it’s heading.

Ages 14+. $39.99/store, $59.99/list price.

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty

Whether using it for play, stress or therapy (it’s a nice special needs pick, too), this vibrant tactile toy will please. Comes in a variety of colors.

Ages 3+. $9.99-$14.99.

An Oakland County destination, this sprawling, 30,000-square-foot store has a reputation as a toy-filled wonderland. And it’s certainly well-earned! Enlisting help from her dedicated staff, president and buyer Stacey Zagrodzki thoughtfully considered the tons of toys in stock – and these contenders rose to the top. They’re extra pumped about some nifty items that have Michigan connections this year.

The Doll Hospital & Toy Soldier Shop

  • Address: 3947 12 Mile Road, Berkley
  • Phone: 248-543-3115
  • Holiday hours: Nov. 17-Dec. 23: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; Dec. 24: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; closed Nov. 27 and Dec. 25

Mini Micro Classic Kickboard

Swiss-designed and winner of a slew of awards, this scooter is fine-tailored to different ages – this one’s low deck and gentle steering are prime for ages 3-5. Options for ages 5-12 and 7+, too. Loads of colors. Bonus: It’s distributed out of Grand Rapids!


Toysmith Nightzone Hoops

This basketball backboard easily affixes to any bedroom door for glow-in-the-dark games. Requires two 3-volt watch batteries (not included).

Ages 6+. $19.99.

Ann Williams Group Craft-tastic Finger Crochet Kit

Want a local edge? “The designers are from Bloomfield Hills,” Zagrodzki says. This kit lets kids create headbands and wrap bracelets in a snap.

Ages 8+. $14.99.

Hape Architetrix Constructor Set

One dimension quickly turns into many with this simple building kit made of bamboo, featuring a variety of nodes and rods for creative play.

Ages 4+. $19.99.

Airedale Terrier hand puppet by Folkmanis

“These puppets are so realistic and lifelike,” Zagrodzki says. “Like you are holding and playing with a real live dog!” It’s sure to make your kid’s next puppet performance best in show.

Ages 3+. $49.99.

Fat Brain Toys Teeter Popper

A real pleaser, this ride-on toy emits perky popping noises when kids rock, wiggle, tilt or spin. Builds balance, too. Available in pink, blue or green.

Ages 3+. $36.99.

International Playthings LLC Twist & Turn Activity House

Babies will love hammering a ball down the chimney, unlocking doors, turning gears and more with this exploratory toy.

Ages 1+. $39.99.

Thames & Kosmos’ Geek & Co.

Sate your little inventor’s STEM tooth with these intrigue-packed, reasonably priced science-themed project kits and crafts.

Ages 8+. $14.99-$24.99.

Enesco/Gund’s Wizard of Oz character Uglydolls

A wonderfully weird pick for 15 years now, the crew gets in costume for the iconic film’s 75th anniversary. Get it as a standard plush or clip on.

Ages 3+. $10.99-$19.99

Blue Orange Games’ Spot It!: Alphabet Disney Frozen and Alphabet Disney Planes

It made a second store’s list! Here, Spot It features a different batch of licensed characters, which help kids learn the alphabet. For 2-8 players.

Ages 3+. $19.99 each.

Play Visions’ Sands Alive!

Moldable and mind-bending, this strange sand has cookie-dough texture but is dry; molds solid but dissolves at a soft touch. Easy to clean up, too.

Ages 3+. About $12.99-$83.99.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Standing Art Easel

Give your young artist an heirloom-quality hub for creativity, complete with 39 letters and numbers and a dual chalkboard/dry-erase option.

Ages 3+. $109.99.

Playmobil Construction Excavator truck and Take-Along Unicorn Fairy Land

Can’t get enough Playmobil? You’re in luck. This truck and play set both offer tactile delights and durable components sure to be a hit.

Ages 3+, $29.99 and ages 3+, $41.49.

Paola Reina ‘Las Amigas’ dolls

Known for its huge doll selection, this store particularly loves these 12.5-inch beauties with rooted hair, made entirely in Spain. Try Carol or Carla.

Ages 3+. $62.95

Schleich’s Peanuts A Charlie Brown Christmas figurines

What holiday is complete without seeing the special on TV? This kit comes complete with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and a decked-out doghouse.

Ages 3+. $19.99.

Looking for some of the most charming goodies in Tree Town? Swing on over to Mudpuddles Toys. Jan Benzinger, co-owner of this Washtenaw County store, jotted down her seasonal favorites with care (with old-fashioned pen and paper, no less!). Standing out in 2014? Kid-friendly instruments, incredible durable ride-on toys and play vehicles you’ll keep for your kids’ grandkids. P.S. – Her store now stocks Legos, too.

Mudpuddles Toys

  • Address: Upstairs at Kerrytown, 407 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor
  • Phone: 734-662-0022
  • Holiday hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; check ahead for holiday hours

Ukuleles by Zither Heaven

“We are crazy about these,” Benzinger says. And for an actual instrument, she adds: “Such a deal!” They’re made in New York and come in blue, pink and red – or plain cherry or maple. (Don’t worry; they sell how-to books too.)

Ages 6-plus. About $50-$85.

Quick Smart Scramble Bug

With four bug-like characters available, these bikes are a hit. “We have them out in the store, and they’re rarely without a rider!” Berzinger says.

Ages 1+. $50.

Duplo Build and Boat Fun

Colorful boats, critters and a one-two stacking/floating punch: It’s no wonder this “building and bath toy in one” is an easy choice for tykes.

Ages 1-3. $19.99.

Automoblox Mini Emergency Responses Line

Cool cars to the rescue! This trio of wooden toy cars has interchangeable parts for lots of combos. “Very classy looking,” Berzinger adds.

Ages 3-5. $40.

Llama Llama Red Pajama book and plush toy

This adorable fellow comes with or without his green Santa hat, Berzinger says. Also in Gruffalo and Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Ages 1-5. $35-$45.

Bruder trucks

These high-quality German-made working machines run a big gamut, from garbage trucks to cement mixers. Simply put: “Addictive.”

Ages 4+. $30-$40.


The iconic drawing tool was re-launched by Kahootz, an Ann Arbor company, last year. Lots of new larger and smaller sets are now available.

Ages 8-15. $24.95; various kits/prices available.

Arttero Eco Craft Kits

Crafty kids get hands on with felting, doll making, jewelry inventing and more. “Very sophisticated and should appeal to teens,” Berzinger says.

Ages 8+. $22-$29.

Educational Insights GeoSafari Omega Refractor Telescope

What’s out there in big cosmos – or in the backyard? With its three interchangeable glass eyepieces and sturdy tripod, this fantastic contraption gives kids a glimpse.

Grades 3+. $129.99.


A fast-paced game of dice for 1-4 players that’s sure to please. (Berzinger also loves Rush Hour, Rummikub, Yamslam and Mastermind. “Just too hard to pick favorites!”)

Ages 7+. $14.95.

Starting out as a web-only shop in 2001, My Hobby Place & Toy now has a brick-and-mortar place to call home. Its big, welcoming home is located in Livonia. Owner Lisa Laing has seamlessly shifted her stock into this space, offering play areas and, of course, plenty of toy and game options for children of all ages and stages. Whether it’s STEM goodies and games or crafty creations, you’re sure to find something for the tykes on your list at this Wayne County spot.

My Hobby Place & Toy

  • Address: 33201 Plymouth Road, Livonia
  • Phone: 734-812-2900
  • Holiday hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; check ahead for holiday hours

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine

These engineering toys geared at girls bring STEM to life in a smart way. There are several options; this one illustrates how a belt drive works.

Ages 4-9. $29.99; other prices vary.

Lego Friends Line

This popular line, which debuted a couple years ago, is still selling strong. Try the new “Advent Calendar,” which has 24 buildable gifts.

Ages 5-12. $29.99 (others range $10-$100).

Toasted or Roasted by Educational Outdoors

In this campfire-themed family game for 2-4 players, the goal is to start a fire and toast three marshmallows – without getting burned by Roasty!

Ages 6+. $13.95.

Kinetic Sand by Waba Fun

This “sand that breathes” is breathtaking. Whether kids are building or simply fiddling, it’s sure to amaze.

Ages 3+. $14.95+.

Gund’s Grumpy Cat

Everyone’s favorite frowning feline is now super cuddle. “Very popular due to the TV movie coming out,” Laing says (airing on Lifetime Nov. 29).

Ages 1+. $22/Gund; $12-$20/others in store.


The popular mind-bending game’s latest offering is Epic, and handheld tangle of 125 barriers sure to keep those brains engaged.

Ages 8+. $29.99/Epic, $25/others in store.

Melissa & Doug Suspend

Try your collective hands at the family game of “tricky hangs and steady hands.” Designed for 1-4 players.

Ages 8+. $16.95.


“Classic everyone loves!” Laing says. This drawing device got a recent reboot from an Ann Arbor company.

Ages 8-15. $24.95.

Carrera GO!!! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trike

To give kids a first exposure to slot-car racing with a high-quality product, you can’t go wrong with this righteous dude.

Ages 5+. $99.95.

Hexbug Micro Robotic Creatures

Designed to give kids a positive first intro to robotics, these small electronic creatures have slithered, crawled and squirmed into their hearts.

Ages 8+. $10-$25.


These unique art kits include lots of little beads that kids arrange into different creations in a layout tray. A special spray holds it together.

Ages 6+. $10+.


With a solid reputation for being both strong and safe, these magnetic building blocks are surefire fun for kids.

Ages 6+. $15+.


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