Santa might be a little strapped for cash this year, but if your kids are anything like mine, they won't be trying to hear that on Christmas morning. It's true; it's the thought that counts, and many Americans just might be on the verge of busting out the depression glass this year.
But most kids I know today aren't programmed to take nicely to handmade gifts in the same way that Great Aunt Mattie might take to some homemade bath salts. Kids these days are savvy enough to know what came from the 99-cent store and what didn't. They have a knack for knowing when Uncle Jr. really wasn't trying. And some can even tell what's been regifted.
But don't give up just yet—with this handy gift guide, you can put smiles on the faces of the important little ones in your life. Best of all, you can do it without emptying Santa's pockets entirely or racking your brain to find just the right thing.
Bless the Child
Bestow baby with a timeless sterling silver cuff bracelet (Red Envelope, $44.95) emblazoned with his or her name. Stimulate little minds with black-and-white Art Baby Flashcards, with whimsical black and white line drawings from the MoMA Store ($14); the cards are stylish enough to create a mini gallery in baby's nursery. Celebrate the naturally coiled hair on baby's head (even if it has yet to grow there) with a onesie that says "I (heart) My Hair" (Dolls Like Me, $11.50, 3-6 months and 6-12 months).
Splurge: The Deluxe Baby Keepsake Kit from Red Envelope ($44.95) is modern moms' and dads' answer to the bronzed baby shoes from back in the day.
Kid and Play
Get them a game that they'll never outgrow. Mancala ($14.39) is Africa's answer to chess and checkers; a game of sequence, that was originally played on ornately carved boards with stones or cowrie shells. Modern mancalas are a lot more streamlined (think IKEA toy department), but fun and functional, nonetheless. Continue the good times with I Never Forget a Face ($13.95), a multicultural version of the classic concentration game, featuring beautifully illustrated faces of kids from all over the world. Put the under-10 set to bed and finish up family game night with The Black Heritage Trivia Game ($19.95).
Splurge: Nintendo's Wii ($359.95) promises hours of family fun.
Thomas isn't the only train in the station. These sleek toy subway cars will add verve to any child's wooden train set—take the A train (or whichever train line you prefer, for $9.95). My Subway Ride (Amazon, $10.85), by Paul DuBois Jacobs, continues the journey through colorful illustrations and rhythmic text that almost sounds like a moving subway car itself. Watch your little loved one go places while listening to Choo-Choo Soul, featuring Playhouse Disney's Genevieve (Amazon, $10.99) and Dan Zanes' Catch That Train—featuring Father Goose, The Blind Boys of Alabama and South Africa's Children of Agape.
Splurge: Wooden Railway Set ($79.95)
For the littlest princess on your list, bestow her royal high chairness with a princess onesie ($24.95, sizes 3-6 months and 6-12 months). Then make her dreams a reality with a T-shirt that reads, "Once upon a time, there was a princess who looked like ME." (Swirl Syndicate, sizes 2T–4T, $25). By all means, celebrate the brains beneath that tiara with T-shirts from Girls Like Math (girls sizes 6-16, $30), conceived by Dr. Ina Daniels Patton, whose brilliant young daughters can rattle off the Pythagorean theorem faster than most 10th graders can.
"I just didn't want to see it hijacked by half-naked girls and boys doing bling-bling," Nikki Giovanni recently told the New York Timesabout Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat. The treasury of 51 selections by 42 performers, including (Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Kanye West, Queen Latifah and Mos Def ) comes complete with an audio CD, many of which are performed by the artists who created them. And any young emcee will appreciate Baby Loves Hip Hop: Dino 5 CD ($15.98). Produced by Prince Paul, the project is a prehistoric musical masterpiece that tells the story of five dinosaur BFFs and features Grammy award-winning poet and mama of four, Ursula Rucker. Must-haves for future spoken word artists and poet laureates alike.
Splurge: An eco-friendly, but funky drum set ($56)
Send them on a historic journey that follows President-elect Barack Obama to the White House through the pages of the President Obama Coloring and Activity Book (Dolls Like Me, $3.99). The 24-page book of high-quality pages features mazes, games and puzzles. Keep it real with Colors of My Friends Washable Markers (Dolls Like Me, $1.95) and Multicultural Crayons (Dolls Like Me, $1.49). Present them in an original Obama Tote Bag (Etsy, $12.99), (available in red, black or green), and you've got a gift that's both historic and artistic for just a little more than $20.
Splurge: Books like Nikki Grimes' Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (Amazon, $11.55), Grace for President(Amazon, $10.87) and Mama Voted for Obama ($10) are delightful additions to the bag that will round out every future voter's bookshelf.
Meera Bowman-Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.