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Toys of the Year 2004

  • Ages 0 - 1 1/2

    This isn't your average stacker. Your baby can chew and cuddle the soft, cloth-covered rings or stack them on the blue-and-green base to create a colorful elephant with crinkly ears. Or he can "feed" balls into the funnel-shaped head to hear a catchy tune and see a sparkly light show. A plus for you: There's an off switch for quiet, imaginative playtime, and a trapdoor to hold the balls for storage. ($20, Tiny Love) Buy it!

  • Ages 0 - 1 1/2 years

    It's big, gaudy, and plastic all over, but if loving this interactive playhouse is wrong, our testers -- and their moms -- didn't want to be right! Both babies and bigger kids keep busy using the key to crawl into their "house," turning on the porch light, "setting" the clock, collecting their "mail," and fiddling with a plethora of buttons, knobs, and spinners to learn everything from their ABCs and numbers to opposites and sorting. Switch play modes, and you'll hear groovy versions of kid standards like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and even some original melodies. It's surprisingly lightweight and stores easily in a corner and against walls. ($60, Fisher-Price/Mattel) Buy it

  • Ages 1 1/2 - 3 years

    Your toddler can use the 25 blocks in the crocodile's belly to build a fabulous creation, then take it apart, toss the pieces on the floor and, with a few simple pushes, watch this colorful creature gobble them up. It's cleanup time made fun for him and (for once) easy for you! ($15, Lego) Buy it

  • Ages 1 1/2 - 3 years

    Rubber ducky should get nervous -- this adorable, floatable bath mate will easily coax your bathing beauty into the tub. She'll love giving her dolly a head-to-toe scrubbing, and you'll love the great grooming practice she gets. Another plus: The doll's body dries fast and doesn't take on mold and soap scum as quickly as other bath toys. Comes with pj's and a small whale bath toy. ($30, Corolle) Buy it

  • Ages 3 - 5 years

    Your preschooler will be ready to hit the greens (your backyard) with this child-size, wheel-able golf set. There's enough equipment for him to take a buddy along for some action: two clubs, three golf balls, and three putting cups are included. And the balls' bold colors make them relatively easy to find if your little golfer's swing is off. Fore! ($20, Battat; 800-822-8828)

  • Ages 3 - 5 years

    It's the sound effects that make this unique interactive dress-up gear so cool. Get a good trot going, and the horse head will "whinny," while the "feet" go "clippity clop." Stand still, and the horse will neigh. Need some quiet? There are hidden volume and on/off controls on each piece for more imaginative play. Other styles include a roaring, stomping dinosaur and a fairy with a magic wand and wings that twinkle. ($25, Big Boing Toys) Buy it

  • Ages 5 - 8 years

    It looks like a mini Palm Pilot, but this handheld, touch-point pen gaming system is much cooler -- and less expensive. It includes 28 educational activities that challenge vocabulary, math, and logic skills and allow kids to play games, make art, and even send messages to their buddies. Also has an alarm, calculator, clock, notepad, and more. ($25, Kidz Delight) Buy it

  • Ages 8 - 12 years

    Your celebrity and fashion junkie will love this fab find: She and up to three friends get to go on a scavenger hunt in the pages of star-filled teen-zines. A timer directs the game; players choose from a deck of 200 cards and race against one another to find stuff -- Can you spot the celeb with the most bling? -- in one of four J-M or M magazines included in the game. Let her use her own mags for a twist. ($20, Milton Bradley)
    -- Denene Millner Buy it

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