Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Holiday greetings from the snowy North!

I was hoping to get a few more posts done before the holidays, but I am just wiped out! We've got a house full of college kids. Lots of fun.

Have a very merry Christmas! We'll be back with more reviews after Christmas and lots of fun ideas for cold, snowy days.

Have a most wonderful holiday season.
-Sara, Arielle and Linnea.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A winner!

I just wanted to congratulate Candace, the winner of the Mudpuppy U.S.A floor puzzle.
Congratulations, Candace!

Map of the U.S.A. Floor Puzzle ($17.00)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Stuff a stocking winners!

The winner of the Stubby Pencil Studio gift card is The Sefton Family.

The little Sefton girls like aprons!

Apron Flora Blue ($19.95)

The winner of the A Toy Garden gift card is Anne (Claire's mommy).

Anne says that Claire would like a silk streamer.

Silk streamer ($9.95)

Congratulations to both our winners! Happy holidays!

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's award time!

Drum roll.... Introducing, our Second Annual Awards post. For last years winners, click here.

All the toys we reviewed were the nominees - and this year, we reviewed an awful lot of toys! The winners are the toys that got the most play and were best loved.

Again, we have no shiny statues or great big checks. Just a virtual hug and a big, fat "Thank you very much!!!"


1. Best eco-friendly toy: Green Toys Recycled Plastic Recycling Truck ($24.99)

Green Toys are made from 100% recycled plastics. They are phthalate free and BPA free. A recycled a recyclable recycling truck - can you get more eco-friendly that that?

My girls love to fill the back of the truck with small toys and bits of paper. You can read the original review here.

2. Best American-made toy: Foldable Gnome House ($19.95)

Not only is this toy made in the USA, but it is one of the most open-ended toys we reviewed this year (Keva Planks would also qualify). The Gnome House is used all the time. It can be a castle, house, barn - the possibilities are as unlimited as a child's imagination. And, it folds flat for travel.

Mothering Magazine agrees with us, they selected the Foldable Gnome House as one of the Best Natural Toys of 2009!

3. Best Toy Under $10: Mary's Softdough

We like Mary's Softdough so much, that after we reviewed it, we reviewed it again!

This is my very best, dependable "I need to keep my children busy, so I can get something done" trick. It will usually keep them occupied for at least an hour. And, there's no TV guilt. Mary's Softdough is made of flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, soybean oil, food coloring and sodium benzoate (a food preservative that keeps it from getting moldy so it can be used for up to a year). It comes in every one's favorite colors and scents and even with sparkles (Linnea's favorite color is sparkly).

4. Best Outdoor Toy: The Sand Play Castle ($22.98)

It has to be the best sand toy ever! Moms, dads, older sibling all wanted to play with this neat construction/sand toy made in the Czech Republic. The sieves, funnels, wheels, strainers and levers can be placed in endless configurations and they actually move sand (or water) from top to bottom. I suppose that it could be used in the bath as well. We'll have to try that.

5. Best Learning Toy:

Ugh! How can I choose? The scale from Rosie Hippo, the Bajo Abacus, the learning clock from Plan Toys, the Mudpuppy map puzzle and the I can spell! alphabet puzzle were all very helpful while home schooling this year. But, can I really say academic learning is more valuable than the kind of learning that comes from imaginative play?

Oh, I know... the Nature Bag! We had a great time learning about the outdoors this summer. The magnifying glass is a big favorite for indoor play and for examining the treasures that the girls bring inside for the science and nature table.

Nature Bag ($34.95)

6. Best Travel Toy: Calafant ($6.99 and up)

Tree house ($24.99)

When my husband has to travel for work, we like to go with him. Bu,t sometimes that means that the kids and I are stuck in the hotel waiting for him for many hours. one mom can take only so much elevator riding. The last hotel didn't even have kid-friendly TV.

Calafant toys travel flat. You put them together and make a toy. You give the kids the emergency crayons from your purse, and the kids decorate the toy. This takes a nice while and it doesn't make a mess in your hotel room. There are no little pieces to leave behind. The kids play with it, and if there's no room to bring it home, it gets recycled. Or, if you are visiting relatives, you can leave it at Grandma's house for next time.

If you really want to get creative, draw little people on the hotel's note pad. Otherwise, grab the bag of finger puppets/gnomes/tiny dolls from the car.

Calafant is made in China and designed in Germany. It won the Toy Innovation Award in 2006 for creativity. And now it wins the prestigious Sara's Toy Box award ;0)

7. Best Toy to Grow With: Extra-Large Rainbow Arches ($79.95)

I love this picture of our friend Tess creating a work of art.

The arches are such a versatile toy. The rainbow arches go from being a simple to stacking toy to to being the scenery for complicated games of make-believe. They are ever so useful as tunnels and seesaws, and when turned on their side, they make excellent wooden animal cages.

I bet this is the toy that Arielle's children will be asking to play with.

8. Best Building/Stacking Toy: Keva Planks Set of 200 ($63.95).

Keva planks are sets of American-made, maple blocks where each block is exactly the same size (1 in. x 4.5 in. x .25 in.). They are perfectly sized for building just about anything a child or adult can imagine. They are open-ended, all-natural, made in the USA, and suitable for all ages, so the whole family can play.

I am betting they see a lot of action in the next month when the big brothers are home from college.

Twig Blocks were a close second.

9. Best toy with wheels: Playforever Bruno Roadster ($59.99)

I think the picture says it all.

Linnea is in love, and this tough race car is built to handle that love and everything else that a three year old can dish out. The car is made in England and is meant to be played with forever.

10. Best art supply / craft project

Can I just put all of Stubby Pencil Studio in this category?



Well, we reviewed these kits so many times, and chances are good that I will mention them again.

"Made by Me" kits ($4.00)

The kits win because of the very proud look that I see on my children's faces when they complete one of these cars "all by myself".


Linnea's Toy of the Year: Poo-Poo the Organic Sock Monkey ($19.95) is made from Maggie's Organic socks that would otherwise be destined for landfills. Poo-Poo has been Linnea's well-loved friend since the moment that we opened the box in March. Linnea sleeps with Poo-Poo, eats with Poo-Poo, drags Poo-Poo everywhere and plays with Poo-Poo. There was a moment when the nice greeter at the supermarket asked Linnea, "What's your little monkey's name?" She yelled "Poo-Poo!"

Anyway, it's a good thing that Poo-Poo is machine washable.

This is one of my favorite Linnea pictures.

Arielle's Toy of the Year: This was a tough one because I wanted Arielle to choose. "Which toy do you love best Arielle?" But, she kept saying I have lots of toys that I love. So, I rephrased the question. When I asked Arielle, "If you were going to tell all the mommies which toy their kids would really love, what would it be?" With no hesitation, she said the Rocket Ship.

Rocket Ship ($77.95)

This is a great toy for imaginative play (and would look really nice in a space-themed room). It also doubles as a tower for Rapunzel.

Kiwi Magazine agrees with Arielle; they listed the rocket ship as one of the top eco-friendly toys of 2009.

Eleanor's Toy of the Year: Chalet Dollhouse by Plan Toys ($179.99)

Eleanor bought the house for Alli's third birthday gift. The dollhouse is made up of two units which can be joined or separated in different ways for different play possibilities. And, I hope that Eleanor will write a review because it looks awesome!

Toy store of the year: A Toy Garden

This is always the hardest decision. I get to know many of the people behind the toys and stores that I write about, and for me this is like choosing among friends - there are several stores that I could have chosen and each one is special. So, I ask other moms. And, I look at reader responses. Sonya and A Toy Garden have been friends to the blog since we started. This year, I had so many people ask if and when we were going to get a coupon code; it was obvious that A Toy Garden is a favorite. So, extra congratulations to Sonya and A Toy Garden.

Click here for our original A Toy Garden store review.

Congratulations to all our winners.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The winner is Lindsay

Lindsay on the Wonderworld Tea Set from Toys and Games Online.

Congratulations, Lindsay!

Wonderworld Tea Time Play Set ($26.00)

Don't forget to enter to win the Stubby Pencil Studio and A Toy Garden gift card giveaways that end tomorrow! The winner will be announced on Saturday.

Holiday Books

At our house, Santa always brings books. A few people have asked for book suggestions, and here are a few of our favorites.

Disclosure: The links go to Amazon. Sara's Toy Box is an Amazon affiliate and when you buy these books, 4% of your purchase goes to support the blog.

My Friend Rabbit ($12.21)

This is Arielle's absolute favorite. She calls it "Rabbit and Mouse". In the story, Rabbit causes Mouse's plane to get stuck in a tree. Rabbit then comes up with a silly idea to rescue the plane. Arielle loves to make up stories about what happens next. The book is a 2003 Caldecott Award winner.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt: A Celebratory Pop-up Edition ($17.99)

And this classic story is Linnea's favorite book. She asks for this story every night. It's about a family that goes looking for a bear (why?) and finds one (uh oh!). The words are catchy, and she has most of the memorized so she reads along. When we go for walks, we make up our own extra verses like "Uh oh! an ocean. A deep blue ocean. Can't go over it. Can't go under it. Got to go through it. Glub Glub Glub Glub..."

The Princess and the Pea ($11.55)

Arielle loves princess books and another favorite of Arielle's, this is a beautifully illustrated and fun (slightly silly) retelling of the classic fairy tale. The story is illustrated with color photographs of 3-D collage. It proves what fans of Charlie and Lola (another big favorite in my house) know, Lauren Childs is a genius. This book should be an award winner!

Arielle says to also mention Go Away, Big Green Monster! ($7.91)

This was the very first book that Arielle read all by herself. It's suitable for two year olds, but still fun for older children. The book is illustrated with bright-colored pages with cut out illustrations. First the scary monster appers, and then he slowly disappears. Great for kids who are worried about scary things in the dark.

More favorites!

Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy ($13.57)

Russell the Sheep ($12.95)

Princess Baby, Night-Night ($10.19)

The Three Pigs ($10.88)

And absolutely anything by Mo Willems especially Knuffle Bunny and the Elephant and Piggie books.

I hope these suggestions help and that you enjoy them as much as we do. Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mudpuppy Puzzle Giveaway

Mudpuppy are the makers of beautiful products for children, including puzzles, games, stationery, diaries, cards, building sets, stickers and a whole lot of other fun products - all beautifully illustrated.

We like the puzzles!

There are several categories of puzzles which range in difficulty from very easy to challenging.

First Puzzles won the iParenting Best Products Award 2006. Each box contains 16 pieces which are color coded and form four 4-piece puzzles. They are appropriate for ages 2+

Construction First Puzzle ($10.00)

Nine-piece Two-sided puzzles teach about opposites. The Day/Night puzzle is a 2003 Parent's Choice Approved Award Winner, a 2003 Dr. Toy 100 Best Children's Product, and has received a 2003 Creative Child Magazine - Seal of Excellence Award.

Day/Night Puzzle ($10.00)

The Mudpuppy Block Puzzles contain nine 2-inch cubes that form 6 pictures. These are great for children over three who can also build with the colorful blocks.

Garden Bugs Block Puzzle ($14.00)

Arielle has recently mastered floor puzzles with 24 jumbo pieces. She reviewed the Map of the U.S.A. Floor Puzzle.

Map of the U.S.A. Floor Puzzle ($17.00)

Arielle loves geography. She is fascinated with maps and locations. So, this puzzle was perfect for her. She was muttering about how Hawaii was in the wrong location and "Where's Texas? I need Texas." She is rapidly beginning to recognize the states and know their locations.

She started...

And in no time...

She was done! Linnea (who dressed herself today) admires Arielle's work.

These puzzles are challenging for early threes, but I bet by the time she is four, Linnea will have mastered this one.

The Color Me Puzzles are two-sided. Children four and older can color within the lines on one side with the crayons that are included in the set. The other side is printed in color. What a great snow day project!

Enchanted Kingdom Color Me Puzzle ($14.00)

Arielle is ready to try the 36-piece Mini Cube puzzles.

Eric Carle Santa Puzzle ($10.00)

Soon, she can try the 63 Piece Puzzles that come in round canisters with a colorful rope handle.

Monsters 63 Piece Puzzle ($14.00)

Finally, Mudpuppy's 100-piece jigsaw puzzles in collectible tins will challenge those serious puzzle masters. These are for ages 6 and up.

They won iParenting Greatest Products of 2005 Award.

Fairy Tales Puzzle ($14.00)

All the puzzles have nice sturdy pieces. The greyboard used to make Mudpuppy puzzles is from 90-100% recycled paper, and the colors are printed with nontoxic, soy-based ink. All puzzles are CE and ASTM tested to ensure safety.

Puzzles make great educational gifts. They help with cognitive skills, fine motor skills,hand-eye coordination, geometric and spatial relationships, and even teach children to deal with frustration. And, they are so easy to wrap.

You can win a Map of the U.S.A. Floor Puzzle just like the one Arielle reviewed. To enter the giveaway go to the Mudpuppy website and pick a favorite product. Post a comment, and make sure that I can contact you if you win.

In a recent giveaway, I had a winner named Anonymous with no details or contact information. I had no way of knowing who that was.

The winner will be announced on December 15th.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Sorry that the Made By Me car disappointed. I guess how appropriate it is would depend on your child. Linnea has been making them for about a year. This picture is from last year when she was about 27 months old.

20% off at Rosie Hippo

I just posted a coupon code good for 20% off purchases at Rosie Hippo. The code "STB20" is good until the end of the year.

Check out Rosie Hippo for great holiday gifts.

Holztiger animals make great stocking stuffers and will be played with for years. Arielle asked Santa to bring her birds. She says that wooden animals are the best toys in the world.

Swimming Swan ($10.00)

Linnea thinks dolls are the best toys ever. And pine cones. This beautiful German-made Kathe Kruse fairy doll could flutter through the pine cones.

Flippippi Fairy Doll ($65.00)

Young knights will love the knight set. It's made in Germany and includes a tunic, sword and shield.

Knight Set ($52.00)

Your future scientist might appreciate a moon ball. OK, it's really me that wants a moon ball :0)

Moon Ball ($10.00)

Anyway, Rosie Hippo has lots and lots of wonderful toys. And, with the coupon, you'll get a great deal!

This month, for every purchase over $100, Rosie Hippo is donating a toy to Room to Grow. Room to Grow is a non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of babies born into poverty throughout the critical first three years of development. They provide one-on-one parenting support and essential baby items.

So you get a great deal, and you can help someone else.