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Product Type: Toys
Award: Platinum
Age: Early Elementary School Years
Review Year: 2012

 


2012 Award
American Girl Caroline Abbott, War of 1812
(American Girl $105 Score:)

Newest addition in the historical doll and book collection, Caroline Abbott lived during the time of the second American War of Independence, the War of 1812. Caroline, a lovely blonde 18" doll has blue eyes and comes dressed in a long pink dress, pantaloons, and pink shoes. She is the daughter of a shipbuilder and lives in Sackets Harbor, New York. When her father is captured by the British, Caroline has to try to live up to a promise she gave her father to prove her steadiness and courage. Her dream is to captain her own ship one day. Kathleen Ernst has authored six books about this brave young girl. Meet Caroline is the first and comes with the doll. No doubt there will be a sailing boat, craft kits, historically accurate clothes, and other accessories. We know a lot of little ones can't wait for this kind of doll, but the story part and the details are really most appropriate for the school years girl.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012.

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2012 Award
LEGO Star Wars Gungan Sub
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score:)

Our LEGO Star Wars fans gave this set high marks: "the shape of the pieces are different", "the tail spins!", "fun build", "I like the minifigs!"   This 465 piece set comes with a cockpit that opens, two cargo containers and a rotating tail. You can detach the mini-sub -- providing more room for dramatic play.   The plus of these sets is that most kids both build and PLAY with the sets once they're together.  Cleverly, each set comes with different minifigures-- so that's also part of the appeal of putting together the fleet.  This build comes with Queen Amidala, OBi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and of course, Jar Jar Binks.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LeapsterGS Explorer
(LeapFrog $69.99 Score:)

Looking for an age-appropriate hand-held game for your younger child that longs to have one like the "big kids"?  Look no further than the LeapsterGS Explorer. While we still urge that "screen time" be monitored and not allowed to take over playtime, this child-centered version is a better choice in terms of content and ease of use. The LeapsterGS leverages the large library of games and eBooks that the company has developed over the years. There are more than 300 learning games to select from (three come loaded on the console). There is a built-in camera so that your child can insert their picture (or yours!) into some of the game play.  As with most LeapFrog educational products, you can load your child's spelling lists into the Leapster-- making studying for Friday's quiz a little less painful.  What's important to know: as with any educational quiz machine, they rarely "teach" new skills but do provide an opportunity to become more comfortable with material that your child has already been introduced to in school.  Practicing your math facts or spelling words gives your child more confidence as they pick up speed through repetition. The trick here is that the academic skill is packaged in fun games.  Let's just say, this is not your old-fashion workbook!  (Remember those?)

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LeapPad2 Explorer
(LeapFrog $99 Score:)

This updated version of last year's breakthrough LeapPad Explorer remains our top pick in high tech toys for 2012. Just like the original, it delivers on all counts in terms of being age appropriate, engaging and easy to use.

What we wrote last year: The LeapPad is not your iPad. In many ways, we think it's better. Well, better for the young audience for which it was designed. At $99, the white, lightweight tablet delivers satisfying speed and graphics to your older preschooler and early school age child. Unlike your iPad, everything is meant for your child. The games pull from LeapFrog's library of 100+ educational games- so you can select those that are most appropriate for your child and her needs. You can use all Leapster Explorer games and apps you already have- also a plus. Our testers also loved exploring the art program- here's an example of where an adult may want a turn! The LeapPad also has a built in camera and video camera. All in all- a great use of technology that will entertain and engage your child.

What's new this year: it's lighter, smaller,  has 4 GB Memory, both a front and back camera, video capability, a faster processor, and you can recharge (although recharger sold separately).  There are now 325 plus games to access from the LeapFrog library as well as eBooks. Comes loaded with 5 apps.  We recommend that you download the more open-ended art studio (it no longer comes loaded).  It comes in both green and pink.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LEGO Creator 3-in 1 Transport Chopper
(Lego Systems, Inc. $34.99 Score:)

Kids can build a helicopter, a pontoon seaplane, or a ferry. The set comes with 383 pieces that can be rebuilt again and again. Our tester liked the motion of the propellers and the ramps for uploading vehicles. These are relatively easy builds with plenty of pretend play potential after the construction puzzle part is complete. 8 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LEGO Friends Heartlake Stables
(Lego Systems, Inc. $49.99 Score:)

Newest of the Lego Friends sets designed for horse lovers. There's a stable with horses, tools for grooming them and cleaning the stable. The themed setting comes with two mini-dolls: Katharina and Mia.  There are over 400 pieces and lots of play time potential once the setting is built. Like other sets in this line, we generally prefer gender free products, but we know from testers that many girls really like this gender specific setting.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
Playmobil Sports Action Take along Soccer Set
(Playmobil $59.99 Score:)

There's no real building or assembling of this soccer field. The case opens to a big self-contained playing area with four players and two goalies. You will want to add more players. The goalies cannot kick but can block with a left to right motion. Pull back a leg and load the ball and the players kick the ball down the field. There are a lot of add-ons for this theme. Young soccer players will like the dramatic play of controlling a field of players. This is a play setting that is a lot younger than a foosball table that has a lot more action. The box shows boys, but there is a girls soccer team set as an add-on....of course.  5-8

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
Barbie Photo Fashion Doll Camera
(Mattel $49.99 Score:)

Camera meets Barbie again! This time instead of a video camera, she's sporting a point and shoot 5- megapixel camera. The camera's eye is on Barbie's back, but the images are displayed on her torso and can be shown in a slideshow, too. Dressed in dark stretch denim skinny jeans, pink platform shoes and a semi-glitzy top, this Barbie camera doll stores up to 200 photos she has 4 MB of memory and comes with her own USB cable, so photos can be downloaded. Added to all that, she has a fun feature that allows kids to use extra design features from Barbie's website.  6 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
Blabla Luigi Frog
(blabla kids $48 Score:)

Soft and huggable, Luigi is a green frog with big eyes and a pencil thin curled mustachio. He wears long brown pants with suspenders and a white shirt. Every detail of this adorable frog is knitted. Like other dolls in the line it is also available in a 12-inch size. If you fancy a girl frog, consider Lilipop, in a paler shade of green ith ballet slippers and a pink yarn tutu.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
Jumbo Bananagrams
(Bananagrams $39 Score:)

Instead of the usual small letter tiles, this Jumbo set comes with 144 tiles that are over 3-inches squares and made of a pliable material. Ideal for playing out of doors, on the floor of the family room, or in the classroom. Players do not take turns as you do in Scrabble. Game play is faster and everyone plays at their own level. With younger kids, try playing on teams or cooperatively. Each play takes 11-21 tiles, depending on the number of players. Someone says SPLIT and all players turns over their tiles and arrange and rearrange them until someone, who has used all his tiles yells PEEL! And takes one more tile from the spare Bunch. Everyone else must also take one tile. A player who cannot use a tile can throw it back but has to take three in exchange.  Play continues until there are no tiles left in the spare Bunch and one player has gotten rid of all his or her tiles. This is great multigenerational game for family gatherings. Be forwarned this Jumbo Set is physically heavy!

For a smaller and less expensive game, check out the original Banangrams($14.99) or the company's Zip It!, both good games for home or easy to pack travel toys.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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