Question: We are definitely an interfaith family. I’m Catholic; my husband is Presbyterian and our daughter is an Episcopalian married to a Jew. They give both Hanukkah and Christmas presents to their 8-year-old daughter and to their two sons, 4 and 12, and so do we. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, however, since Hanukkah begins on Thanksgiving this year, as it does every 77,798 years, and suddenly I’m shopping for a turkey and making pies while buying each grandchild a big present on the first day and the last day of Hanukkah and little presents each day in between, as well as a big Christmas present for each of them. And I don’t even know what games, what toys and what books my grandchildren want this year. What’s hot? What’s not?
Answer: Your grandchildren probably want the console and the video games that are advertised the most and the toys their friends have. Unfortunately, trendy toys seldom keep a child’s interest for long. Let their parents buy those.
You want to give your grandchildren the kind of toys they will play with day after day and treasure forever. And that means that these toys should be simple and sturdy and inspire children to play with them in many different ways; their CDs should be entertaining enough to make them want to sing and dance, and their books should make them want to read them again. And again. And again.
It’s the ”again” factor that matters with any toy, game or book. Whatever you buy for your grandchildren should make them want to play with it or hear it or read it over and over, which leads us to Sparkup. At $60, this revolutionary gadget would be a perfect big gift for your 4-year-old grandson, especially if you don’t see him very often. Sparkup will record you (or anyone) reading a picture book and then let your grandson hear your voice as he turns the pages. If he skips a page, Sparkup will skip it, too, and if he stops turning the pages, it will stop. Sparkup will also let his mom download a recorded book for him, such as “The Night-Night Song,” written by Kim Mitzo Thompson and Karen Mitzo Hilderbrand with music by Hal Wright ($10).
If he wants to dance and clown around, however, give him “Morning Wish Garden” by the Ohmies (Ohmazing Tunes; $10). It started as a New York musical, but it’s a must-have album now.
Depending on his interests, your older grandson should like “Physics” by Tom Jackson (Shelter Harbor Press; $25), on the 100 breakthroughs that changed history, or “The Top 10 of Everything in Sports” (Sports Illustrated; $12), but probably not both. Or give him “Candy Experiments” by Loralee Leavitt (McMeel; $15), which turns candy into science and science into fun. Another option: Encourage your family to pool its money on www.shareagift.com to buy the super-grand gift he really wants.
For your 8-year-old granddaughter, there’s Zip-It, a board game without a board that can be won — or lost — in one exciting minute (Bananagrams; $15). And if she’s artistic, there’s “Yoga for Your Brain” — Kidz Edition, please — by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (Fox Chapel Publishing; $10), or a packet of waterproof, pierce-free, nontoxic earrings (Poppy Drops; $7) if she’s a fashion diva. They’re cheap and irresistible.
If your granddaughter is mad for dolls, you could buy the amusing, feather-light dragon who wears his heart on his sleeve, the fat king who tucks his heart in his shirt or the princess, the fairy, the cat and the elf whose hearts are painted on — or not. They’re taken from a book called “The Princess and the Happiness” by Ulf Stark and cost $3 to $15 at Ikea if you buy them before Jan. 4, the Ikea Foundation will give a dollar of each sale to send a child to school.
And may this encourage you to give your grandchildren the present that every child should get for Hanukkah and Christmas: the chance to give to others. If you help them collect $10, Heifer.org will buy a share of a pig for a poor family, and if you can gather $21, Worldvision.org will buy three ducks so some other family can eat eggs all year — and have ducklings to raise or sell, too.
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Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns. Her next chat is scheduled for Dec. 12.