Favorite Things: Great Birthday Gifts for $20 or Less

We tested dozens of toys and games to find these budget-friendly and kid-pleasing gifts

Delightful Dinosaurs

Wooden jointed green dinosaur Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Jurassic playtime just got cuter, thanks to this set of three Wooden Dinosaurs. The colorful, fully posable creatures (Brachiosaurus, T-rex, and Stegosaurus) lend themselves to eons of imaginative play.

Ages 3 to 6, $14.98, magiccabin.com

    Picture-Perfect Book

    The Mouse Mansion book cover Photograph by Mark Mantegna

    The tiny residents of The Mouse Mansion will bring out big smiles! For this impressive story collection, author-artist Karina Schaapman built and furnished more than 100 rodent-size rooms, stuffed with everything a mouse family needs (piano, washer, cuckoo clock ...).

    Ages 4 and up, $18.99, barnesandnoble.com

      Sweet Structures

      Wooden puzzle treehouse Courtesy of Magic Cabin

      Kids punch out the pieces of Woodland Puzzle Play Sets, then, with a little parental help, assemble the three sweet wooden houses for fairies and gnomes.

      Ages 6 to 10, $19.98, magiccabin.com

        Creative Art Set

        Creative Arts Set Photograph by Mark Mantegna

        Boasting 26 stamps (monkey, stars, boat), a multihued ink pad, and a quintet of colored pencils, Wooden Favorite Things Stamp Set packs an abundance of art options into one sturdy tray.

        Ages 4 to 10, $14.99, melissaanddoug.com

          Engaging Encyclopedia

          Color Illusions book Photograph by Mark Mantegna

          Featuring pull tabs, a pop-up rainbow, spinning disks, and a slick pair of 3-D decoder glasses, Color Illusions explores the full spectrum of optical tricks and facts.

          Ages 7 and up, $19.99, dk.com

            Amazing Autos

            Wooden Pull-back Race Cars Photograph by Mark Mantegna

            Wooden Pull-Back Race Cars are sturdy, handcrafted, and hand-painted vehicles that can fuel hours of play. As their name implies, kids roll them back, let them go, and watch them vroom away.

            Ages 3 to 7, $14.98 for a set of four, magiccabin.com

              Mighty Action Figures

              Marvel Superhero Mashers Courtesy of Hasbro

              Each of the Marvel Superhero Mashers is cool on its own, but what makes them awesome as a group is their swappable heads, limbs, and accessories. Think Iron Man is unbeatable? Imagine him with Thor's hammer and Spider-Man's web. 24 figures available.

              Ages 4 to 10, $9.99 and up, hasbrotoyshop.com

                Super-Cute Dolls

                Our Generation Mini Dolls Courtesy of Target

                With the introduction of these 6-inch-tall Our Generation Mini Dolls, the popular doll line is growing (or is that shrinking?). Each comes with pretty fashions such as a raincoat, faux fur vest, and cozy booties. 6 dolls available.

                Ages 3 to 10, $9.99, target.com

                  Popular Building Toy

                  Bionicle lego line Courtesy of Lego

                  Bionicle is back! The kid-favorite Lego line hasn't been available for a few years, but this version is sure to garner new young fans. Gift-givers can select from 18 figures, including the fearsome Protector of Fire, shown here.

                  Ages 6 and up, $9.99 and up, shop.lego.com

                    Speedy Race Cars

                    Touch 'n' Go Racer Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                    On your mark, get set, and -- with just a touch -- go! Kids tap the markings on Touch 'N' Go Racers to control the vehicle and activate fun sound effects (honking horn, revving engine, screeching tires). 4 vehicles available.

                    Ages 3 to 8, $12.99, littletikes.com

                      Pretty Pictures

                      My First Color Dominoes Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                      Created in France, My First Color Dominoes pairs a simple, sturdy book about colors with a 28-piece domino set boldly illustrated with characters and objects from the book by Edouard Manceau. This package delights with its quirky-cute surprises, such as the boy in a beret for the color blue and the little, mittened ninja representing the color black.

                      2 to 4 players. Ages 4 and up, $13.99, chroniclebooks.com

                      Fun by the Foot

                      Tape-a-Doodle Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                      Tape-a-Doodle combines a classic gift (a 20-page journal) with the craft supply of the moment (decorative tape). the five colors of adhesive material, totaling 98 feet, allow for hours of creative doodling.

                      Ages 7 and up $19.99, creativityforkids.com

                        Cute and Cuddly

                        Sophie & Lili Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                        This 12-inch-tall Sophie & Lili friend is 50 percent doll and 50 percent pillow, and 100 percent lovable.

                        9 styles available. Ages 3 to 6 $20, nabear.com

                          Build It Then Blast It

                          Demolition Lab: Breakdown Building Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                          With Demolition Lab: Breakdown Building, the blueprint for thrills is simple. 1. Use cardboard cutouts and plastic clips to construct a tower. 2. Set the blaster inside. 3. Push the red button to send it crashing down. 4. Repeat, over and over and over.

                          Ages 8 and up $19.99, smartlabtoys.com

                            Save the World With Your Sketches

                            The Super Book for Superheroes Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                            Through a series of drawing prompts, The Super Book for Superheroes, by Jason Ford, helps kids design their very own caped crusader and comic book universe. Among the activities packing a creative "ka-pow!": sketching an evil clown and decoding a secret message.

                            Ages 7 and up $15.95, amazon.com

                              A Puzzle with its Own Trunk

                              Elmer: 4 Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                              Elmer: 4 Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles from kids preferred features the popular pachyderm of picture book fame. Preschoolers will love piecing Elmer together, and parents will love the quality of the wooden parts and storage box.

                              Ages 4 to 6 $14.99, amazon.com

                                Peek-A-Boo Page Turner

                                What's Inside? Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                                The title question, What's Inside?, is posed throughout this book by author and illustrator Okido. Questions such as "What's inside your head?" cue kids to lift the page to the light, where the answer, drawn on the backing page, shines through.

                                Ages 5 to 9 $19.95, thamesandhudsonusa.com

                                  Mix-And-Match Creatures

                                  Mixels Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                                  Talk about a present with personality! Mixels sport funky hair, big eyes, and wild colors. The best part? Pieces from different sets can be combined so that kids can make their own wacky buddies.

                                  9 sets available. Ages 5 and up, $4.99, shop.lego.com

                                    Retro Style for Modern Tunes

                                    Beat Box Flat Pack Speakers Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                                    Plug your mobile phone or mp3 player into the cardboard Beat Box Flat Pack Speakers for some
                                    One Direction on the go--no batteries required.

                                    Ages 8 and up, $17.99, worldmarket.com

                                      Tiny Treats

                                      Cupcake Cuties Photograph by Mark Mantegna

                                      Dip into Cupcake Cuties for a bit of soothing, flavored gloss.

                                      Ages 6 and up $10.19 for four, karmakiss.net

                                      Originally published in the March 2014 issue of FamilyFun

                                        Sweet Doll Line: Say "Konnichiwa" to These Collectibles


                                        Japanese-style, kimono-clad figures are all the rage right now, and we think the Kimmidoll Junior line is one of the sweetest. Pick from six fashionable, 3 1/2-inch resin moppets. Bonus: The line also features keychains and pens to match.

                                        Ages 3 and up, Kids Preferred, $13, dolls; $6, key chains and pens.

                                          Preschool Puzzle: Full Steam Ahead for Fun

                                          Train puzzle

                                          With 12 two-sided pieces, the All Aboard Train Puzzle lets little ones build an almost 6-foot-long colorful, beautifully illustrated locomotive.

                                          Ages 3 to 6, Chronicle Books, $14.99

                                            Cute Kit: Craft x Jewelry = Fun Squared

                                            Tile Jewelry

                                            Transform wooden, Scrabble-type squares into stylish trinkets with Tile Jewelry. The kid-friendly kit contains a plethora of stickers, gems, beads, and more for making necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings.

                                            Ages 7 and up, Alex Toys, $16.95

                                              More Than a Book: Play for Pennies

                                              Coin Blaster Arcade

                                              Coin Blaster Arcade may look like a book, but it's more like a spiral-bound game room. The thick cardboard pages offer various targets for your kids' rolled or flung coins. Custom coin launchers and lessons on the basics of proper finger-flicking techniques round out the text.

                                              Ages 8 and up, Klutz, $19.99

                                                Creative Accessory: A Watch With the Write Stuff

                                                Write On Watches

                                                Kids can doodle or draw on their own time with Write On Watches. Sketch with pencil for erasable creations or use ink for a more lasting look. The flexible paperlike band is water- and tear-resistant and comes in three styles: graph, ruled, and plain white.

                                                Streamline Inc., $5.99

                                                  Zany Fun: Have a Ball With a Party Animal

                                                  Moose Popper

                                                  Our testers were bullish about the Moose Popper. Load one of the six foam balls into its waiting chompers, then press the belly to send the ball flying up to 20 feet. Twelve other animals are also available.

                                                  Ages 4 and up, Hog Wild, $10.95

                                                    Far-Out Fairy Tale: A Book That's Just Right


                                                    Bears, chairs, and porridge figure big in The Goldilocks Variations, but not as expected. In seven witty retellings, Goldilocks encounters 33 bears, some antennaed aliens ("Who's been dodderling my spootz?"), and a talking bowl of mush named Morris. In the loopy center of it, father-daughter collaborators Allan and Jessica Ahlberg tuck a raucously funny mini book (Goldilocks The Play).

                                                    Ages 5 to 10, Candlewick, $17.99

                                                      Great Activity Book: This Gift Gets Two Thumbs Up

                                                      Finger Fun

                                                      In Finger Fun!, authors Pam Abrams and Ellen Shea show dozens of clever ways to turn kids' digits into silly characters. Use the included materials (washable markers, embroidery floss, pom-poms) or household items and toys, such as the hats shown below, to transform fingers--and toes! Then sit back and watch the show.

                                                      Ages 6 and up, Downtown Bookworks, $9.99

                                                        For Wannabe Private Eyes: Solve the Birthday Gift Dilemma

                                                        How to Be a Detective

                                                        How to Be a Detective makes sleuthing, well, elementary! Crime novelist Dan Waddell spills the secrets of tracking footprints, reading perp body language, and much more. Brightly illustrated by Jim Smith, this absorbing primer gives gumshoes a real case to crack, along with materials for a DIY periscope and an ink pad for processing fingerprints.

                                                        Ages 7 to 11, Candlewick, $20

                                                          Game of Skill: A Ribbiting Challenge

                                                          Flingin' Frogs

                                                          The object of Flingin' Frogs is deceptively simple: try to flip your plastic frogs onto the various lily pads to score the most points and win. The challenge--and the fun--is getting the frogs to land where you want. Our testers played this game over ... and over ... and over.

                                                          1 to 4 players. Ages 4 and up, Patch Products, $8.99