Harry Potter, harps, robots and Barbie are hot

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2001

In the middle of last week, Kelly and Rocky Haden were shopping for toys for their children, Kaylin, 6, and baby brother Casey, 9 months.

"We are buying more educational toys than anything else," Kelly Haden said, as she wrote a check. For example, under the tree on Tuesday Kaylin will find "Leap Frog, Leap Pad," a series of interactive talking books that teach math, phonics or reading. Casey will find a hammering toy suited to his motor skills.

The couple was of two minds about how much they were spending.

"I think we are on a par with what we spent last year; we never go off the deep end," said Kelly, the manager for the jewelry department at Fred Meyer.

Rocky, a counselor with Johnson Youth Center, disagreed: "Everything is more expensive so we are spending more. Gas is up, electricity is up, insurance is up. I think the economy stinks. It leaves less you can spend."

For his extended family, Leonard Verrelli thought the price tag had increased. "I think we are spending more this year, buying DVDs and skis and computers."

On this shopping trip, however, Verrelli and his wife, Deborah, were buying for charitable giving through Toys for Tots. Their arms were full of Barbie dolls and video game action figures.

Dolls and hammers have been popular with kids since the days of ancient Egypt, but electronic toys are at the top of many gift wish lists for 2001.

Xbox and Buster the Robot are the two big sellers at the Juneau K•B store at Nugget Mall, said Andrea Pignatelli, public relations coordinator for K•B Toys Inc., which is headquartered in Pittsfield, Mass.

Xbox is a Microsoft video game platform that retails in a $299.99 package including 256-channel audio, a built-in hard drive, one controller and a DVD player. "We are selling them to the point that some days we are out of them," Pignatelli said.

A couple of months ago, K•B issued a list of what it thought the top 10 toys for the season would be. The list has proved accurate, to a point.

"We have noticed that there is not one toy that was flying off the shelves," Pignatelli said. "All the toys that are doing well have lots of play value and attractability."

Buster the Robot is a two-foot-tall, metallic-gray remote-control toy with the lineaments of everybody's mental robot, marked down to $59.95 from $99.95. It can't deliver juice from the kitchen, but can pick up a sock and carry it to the laundry.

At Hearthside Books' Nugget Mall location, the big seller is Music Maker Harp. It's a lap-size wooden harp played horizontally. The player uses a pick to pluck the metal strings, following sheet music placed under the strings, said Hearthside toy manager Mary Cogswell. She is hoping to have the $39 instrument back in stock by today.

For kids who are less coordinated but still like to get in their licks, Hearthside carries simpler musical toys such as slide whistles, castanets, feadogs (Irish whistles), musical spoons, sand blocks and kazoos.

Runner-up to the harp is Cranium, a board game for age 8 and up. The children's version, called Cadoo, is for kids 5 to 8. "It's selling really well," Cogswell said. In this year of the apprentice British magician, Harry Potter-theme items also were doing well, from books to card games, she added.

Harry Potter is also a star in the toy department at Super Kmart, "especially the Legos, and the castle set ($95)," said toy department manager Sandy Demmert. The Volkswagen Bug vehicle, which is a Barbie accessory, and action figures like G.I. Joe and the Rescue Heroes, are popular too, Demmert said.

Several of these same toys including Cranium, Legos and Xbox are selling well at Fred Meyer, said store director Fred Sayre. "It looks as if families are staying home and entertaining themselves," he said.

Radio-controlled cars, traditional games like Monopoly, Yatsee, Clue and Life, compact disc players and bead kits for making necklaces and bracelets were popular items, as were electronic games such as Playstation 2.

Parents are buying compact discs for teen-agers, and teens purchase them for other teens. Hot hits are the "Now" collections, such as "Now: Eight," by various artists, said Levi Berner, manager of Capital Records. Others selling well include the album "State" by the Canadian group Nickelback, and Sting's new live album, "All This Time."

At The Art Department, Amos' Glass Deco is the top seller this year, said clerk Lori Oldacres. This kit would appeal to kids who like paint by numbers. It comes with 16 colors ($16.95) or 10 colors ($10.95), plus instructions and vinyl sheet patterns. The young artist uses an outline color to produce a pattern similar to the lead of stained glass. Then the sections are filled in. The result is a decal-like artwork that can be applied to and displayed on a window pane.

"They're really affordable," Oldacres said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneaumpire.com.

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