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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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