We love scoping out all the new and fun toys and games for the season! This year we were happy to see that many of our favorites from last year saw success in the market and even expanded this year to offer more exciting fun for kids. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair is a great place to meet emerging companies as well as staples in the industry. Here are our picks for the best Christmas gifts and Hanukkah gifts: our Holiday Gift Guide for Kids of All Ages. Some of these are even for that difficult age to buy for: tweens!
Don’t miss our guide to the best books at the bottom!
Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Toys and Games
Our Top Pick for Babies
Discovery Toys makes quality toys for toddlers, including their Hide Inside Cottage, teething toys, measuring cups for water play and more. Check out their Amazon page for great gift ideas: Discovery Toys
Our Top Pick for Toddlers and Preschoolers
The colors and design first drew me towards the SmartMax toys and I was in love with how they feel- the animals are sturdy, but soft and rubbery to the touch. It’s a great tactile experience for little ones and fun to change things around and play. The pieces are described as oversize, strong, and safe, which I think sums it up perfectly. Mix and match animal heads and tails with magnetic inserts. The tractor set is pictured above; both the tractor set and train set have cars to arrange and push around. The animal set comes with 16 pieces to build a Horse, Pig, Cow, Sheep, Chicken and Rooster. The parts are compatible with all SmartMax sets, so you can expand your collection.
Click the following links to buy on Amazon:
SmartMax My First Tractor Set
SmartMax My First Animal Train
SmartMax My First Farm Animals
Our Top Picks for Preschoolers and Young Elementary Schoolers
We got a kick out of this game. The object of the game is to take one of each of the three different types of snacks from granny’s tray before she wakes up. Your spin on the spinner tells you how many snacks you can take and after each turn you press the purple button. At some point she springs up from her chair, her teeth go flying, and you can’t help but giggle. No batteries required.
Click here to buy on Amazon: Greedy Granny
This game reminds us of Barbecue Party, another winner from Goliath, where you use tongs to remove food from the barbecue before it goes flying off. My kids loved that game for years. Click here to buy on Amazon: Barbecue Party
If you have been following Kidlist for a while, you know about my love for Peaceable Kingdom games. I love the quality of the game pieces and their vision for cooperative games. You aren’t playing against each other; you either all win or all lose, so you figure out the strategy for each game together. Players work together to fill the money jar with 12 quarters before serving 4 sour lemon tokens. The goal of each turn is to serve one customer a drink by rolling the dice and matching those dice to the recipe card. It’s a great combination of skills!
Click here to buy on Amazon: Lemonade Shake Up!
Playfoam has been a favorite in our house for a while. Made by Educational Insights, it comes in several different colors and can be rolled out and shaped like play dough, but isn’t nearly as messy. It’s a great way for the kids to get creative and I like to play with it too! This year they have Playfoam Pals, which is stocking-sized balls of playfoam with a surprise animal figurine in the middle for an extra treat.
Click here to buy on Amazon:
PlayFoam Combo Pack
Playfoam Pals (stocking-stuffer sized)
Our Top Pick for Elementary School Kids and Tweens
Gravitrax is a marble run and STEM toy all in one. Use your imagination or the instruction booklet to build your own race tracks and experiment with gravity, magnetism, and kinetics to propel your ball to the finish. It is satisfying to create and memorizing to watch! Your kids will develop their spatial reasoning and planning skills with this toy while having tons of fun.
Click here to buy on Amazon: Gravitrax Starter Set
My kids played Deblockle at ChiTAG and they are hooked! It’s an innovative and creative strategy game where you try to move your pieces one by one to the square with the star in order to remove them from the board. Looks simple, but it’s a great challenge. We also met the game inventor, Joshua Sellers, a nice guy that clearly loves puzzles and making quality products! Two thumbs up for this two player game.
We couldn’t find this game on Amazon yet, but you can buy it on their website here: Deblockle
We started playing Klask two years ago and still enjoy it. They had a huge area at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair and it was packed with people having a blast playing the game. KLASK is an epic magnetic battle. The game is similar to air hockey and foosball, but replace the bulky and space consuming box with a more lean, interesting, and strategic challenge. Well made in Denmark. Recommended for ages 8+, but my daughter started playing when she was 6.
Click here to buy on Amazon: Klask
Designed by an industrial designer from University of Illinois, Benjamin Khachaturian (pictured above), this simple toy is a joy to fly. It glides through the air effortlessly and there are many possibilities for making a fun game out of it. My kids were catching it around their heads and on their arms. Great design and we love supporting local inventors! RingWings are available for purchase through the website (catchringwing.com) or locally at Brody’s Balloons in Broadview.
Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Books
Beginning Picture Books
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
This is a wonderfully illustrated book about a boy who sees a gray city and wants to transform it into a beautiful place that everyone can enjoy. The story is great and it lends itself to talking about the pictures and adding to the story with your child’s own ideas about what they see.
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
If you haven’t tried Elephant and Piggie books yet, you definitely should. They are hilarious and will get your kids into reading.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr.
This is a childhood favorite that is still around and just as endearing as when I would hear it as a child. It’s a great way to learn the alphabet in a fun and colorful way.
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
This classic is about a boy, his imagination, and a purple crayon. It has a great message and we always enjoy reading about his adventures.
Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
We love the illustrations and story told in this book. A girl wakes up with antlers on her head and the family doesn’t know what to do. I won’t ruin the surprise at the end. We have read this one over and over again! It’s a Reading Rainbow book… remember those?!
The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak
Another funny one that lends itself to non-stop laughs as you read it aloud with drama and expression.
Picture Books for Early Elementary
Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen
This is the story of a plucky inventor, named Violet, that uses her ingenuity to solve problems. She is now a mainstream character and endures being seen as the outsider, but has the confidence and drive to enter an air show. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens. The storyline is great and we enjoyed the hand drawn illustrations.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
An amazing woman tells the story of the adventures of her life, including spreading lupine seeds wherever she went to spread beauty.
The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion
This classic book is about a entrprenureal boy who decides that he wants to start a business taking care of people’s plants when they go on vacation. The message of determination and responsibility is refreshing, especially from the point of view of a young child. Apparently it’s not in print anymore, but I would recommend checking it out of your local library!
What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada
The ideas in this book are abstract but a wonderful conversation starter with your kids. It is a celebration of original ideas, how our thoughts make us unique and our need to nurture them. I think it’s so important to teach our kids that no matter how small they are, their thoughts and ideas make a different and this book is a wonderful way to show that.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers
This funny story is about a boy who opens his box of crayons and finds only letters- his crayons quit!
Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty
With a passion in architecture, Iggy creates famous structures from any type of materials he can find. When his teacher doesn’t understand his interest and squashes his creative outlet his enthusiasm level dwindles… until they go on a field trip and his building skills save the class. I like how this book celebrates each of our different talents and how our unique interests contribute. There are newer books in this series, but Iggy Peck is the first.
Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery by James Ponti
I absolutely love the message in this book of being observant of your surroundings and intuitive about people and situations. It’s a great page turner with a plot line and characters I also enjoyed.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka
This series is written by another New York Times Bestselling Author and does a wonderful job explaining physics concepts in a fascinating way to young audiences. If you have a child interested in science I recommend these books. There are three of them so far, each of which introduces different areas of science and technology. The banter between the protagonist and antagonist is fun and appeals to kids while the storyline intrigues and fascinates.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
We are reading this book right now, have heard wonderful things about it, and it’s living up to what everyone says. And you have to read the book before seeing the movie, right?!
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The characters are phenomenal in this book and the story is very intriguing. Luckily there are other books in the series so you can keep reading about Sticky, Constance, Reynie, and Kate. Don’t let the length deter you- this is a book worth reading. My second grader, fourth grader, and I read it together and loved it.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
My son finished this book before I could even read it with him and he said it’s the best book he’s ever read, so it must be pretty amazing! It’s about a robot who wakes up and finds herself alone on an island. She becomes friends and family with the animals and adapts the her new surroundings, but there are twists and turns.
Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton
This new book is about girls that find an intriguing long-buried box. Best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago. We admittedly haven’t finished yet, but are excited to keep reading. It’s gotten rave reviews.
Jesus Calling For Kids
This books has daily messages from the Bible that are applicable and understandable for kids. It’s great because it gives a short paragraph of one of God’s truths from His point of view for every day of the year and also gives a verse along with it. It only takes a few minutes to read and it just makes you feel so uplifted and loved. By the way, I have the adult version of Jesus Calling and highly recommend it. I keep it in my nightstand and read it first thing when I wake up. I love it, you should check it out.
Do you have more book recommendations? Or toy and game recommendations? Comment below of email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We did not receive any compensation from the toy and game companies for inclusion in this guide. In some cases we were sent product in exchange for a review with our honest opinions. Links to those reviews are included in applicable descriptions, but toys and games that we do not recommend have not been listed in this guide.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links, which means that you are still paying the same price, but Kidlist receives a small percentage from Amazon to support the site.