Look to kids' passions for perfect gifts

By Leanne Italie

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 12:56 p.m. MST

This product image courtesy of kid o shows the BIT Bikes by Glodos. These bikes have curved wood bodies and two wide wheels in neon pink, blue, orange and green with seats to match for new walkers or toddlers who love to roll.

kid o, Associated Press

NEW YORK — To the uninitiated, buying gifts for kids can feel like a treasure hunt without a map through store aisles and websites packed for the holidays. But sussing out clues may not be as difficult as it looks.

Has the young recipient ever offered you one of his homemade cupcakes? Have you seen her tear around on a little ride-on bike? Is the living room often strewn with building bricks or stacking blocks?

Casual buyers looking for presents for children they don't know well need only focus on general interests. Mom and dad will likely take on the "it" gift of the season, or farm it out to grandma, leaving lots of room for other shoppers, whether the giftee is a builder, baker or bookish.

If that sounds too complicated, reach for the classics — in books, apparel or toys, said Rachel Jarrett, general manager of the children's department for the sale site Gilt Groupe. A sweater with room for size variation, or mittens or hats, for example. Try toys in wood, including eco-friendly bamboo.

"We do incredibly well with wooden toys," Jarrett said.

Anne Keane, fashion director for Lucky magazine, suggests keeping it simple. "Generally, staying with moderately classic, small gifts is the easiest route to take for all age groups," she said. "Especially if you don't know the kids that well."

The handcraft site Etsy.com has unique felt toys, Keane said. And Plan Toys makes a fun wood-and-canvas shopping cart on three wheels for toddlers.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box, Jarrett urged. Wall decor may not feel terribly gifty, but Wallcandyarts.com has chalkboard decals in the shapes of elephants, apples and circles that would please lots of kids. Room organizers that play into a favorite theme can also be fun.

And there's nothing wrong with asking your giftee's parents for a suggestion.

"I think parents do appreciate it when you ask what might make a nice gift," Jarrett said. "They want to make sure you're not getting something that maybe somebody else is also getting. It's a lot to return a toy."

A few suggestions by interest:

HARRY POTTER KIDS

Wands: What might the young fan not already have? A beautiful, nearly $40 replica of his favorite character's wand, perhaps. The HP area of the Warner Bros. site, Wbshop.com, has a nice selection of collectible wands complete with fancy boxes straight from the Ollivanders shop. Warning: While fun to hold, they're true collectibles and could break if treated roughly.

Harry Potter Lego: HP sets abound. Reach for the Knight Bus. The purple triple-Decker bus set just out over the summer includes three mini-figures, of Harry, Stan Shunpike and Ernie Prang, along with Harry's owl Hedwig. It can be rebuilt as a regular bus and kids likely won't grumble at having more than one. From Lego.

"Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7": For Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PSP, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS and Games for Windows PC. Continues the saga of "Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4." Recommended for ages 10 and up as the HP world turns darker. From Warner Bros.

T-shirts: Chances of you buying a different one than your young HP fanatic already has are in your favor. Look around for quality and sales. A call to mom or dad for the child's favorite house at Hogwarts will help you drill down to just the right crest, robe or scarf, and lead to more token HP-by-house gifts like key chains, magnets and writing journals.

LEGO KIDS

Lego lunch set: Licensed Lego lunch box in the shape of a brick, with two mini-boxes also made to look like the real thing, along with a drinking bottle topped by an iconic yellow Lego head for the cap. From Plast Team.

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