By Alicia Potter, with Krista Hojnowski, Beth Honeyman, Lisa Stowe, and Ellen Harter Wall
What's the formula for finding this year's most fabulous toys? Start with 50 discerning families, and then give them 425 of the newest playthings to evaluate. The results? Our top ten award winners, each for under $100!
1. Crayola Virtual Design Pro, Crayola, $29.99 each set; ages 6 and up for iOS and Android.
Hand-drawn artwork goes high-tech in two fully loaded activity sets. With the Fashion Collection, our testers delighted in designing clothes using the kit's stencils, pencils, and markers. But the real thrill came in bringing those designs to life in a virtual world. Kids use the free app to scan their creations into a tablet or smartphone (not included), then customize each model's look and accessories before sending them down the runway. With the Car Collection, kids use the art materials to design autos that they can then race on a digital stunt track. crayola.com
Never miss a local story.
2. Hot Wheels RC Street Hawk, Mattel, $59.99, ages 8 and up.
Two words say it all: flying car. This remote-controlleddragster kisses land good-bye and soars up to 200 feet in the air. Light yet resilient, it goes from doughnuts on the driveway to aerial loop-the-loops - and back again. amazon.com
3. DigiBirds, Spin Master, $29.99, ages 5 and up.
These three interactive birds with cheerful songs are a pick worth tweeting about. Controlled by a whistle ring that doubles as a perch, the chirpers come programmed with 20 melodies and can be set to sing solo or as a choir. "I've heard my girls humming the tunes the birds play," reported one mom. digibirds.com
4. Gyrobot, Thames & Kosmos, $49.95, ages 8 and up.
Put a spin on the science of gyroscopes by constructing this kit's seven cool motorized models. Tester favorite: a robot who rolls across a tightrope. thamesandkosmos.com
5. Paper Style: Hairdos, Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 8 and up.
This quirky craft book introduces 15 characters, including a mermaid, clown, vampire, and pirate, all in need of a haircut. Each comes with a paper sheet of hair that kids can cut, curl, braid, and crimp into mod makeovers. chroniclebooks.com
6. Max Tow Truck, Jakks Pacific, $59.99, ages 6 and up. When monster-wheeled bad boy Max exclaims, "Load me up!" he's not kidding. Equipped with a powerful electric motor and sturdy plastic chain, Max hauls up to 200 pounds. As to what this feat might look like, a 5-year-old tester offered, "I love that Max can tow me and my dad on a skateboard!" toysrus.com
7. Lego Juniors, Lego, $9.99 to $49.99, ages 4 to 8.
You might call this line of new Legos the missing link - or brick - between little-kid Duplos and more advanced sets. Each themed pack, such as Construction, contains regular-size bricks alongside larger preassembled pieces, meaning easier and faster builds. Next on the tester wish list for Lego: "Pairing the sets with a small handheld broom and dustpan!" shop.lego.com
8. Splish Splash Sink & Stove, Little Tikes, $19.99, ages 3 to 8.
After cooking a tasty pretend meal on the stove top, kids wash the included dishes and utensils in the sink with a working pump faucet. We won't tell if you try to slip in a few of your family's actual dirty dishes. littletikes.com
9. Creature Clash! Card Game, Chronicle Books, $14.99, ages 6 and up; 2 to 6 players.
This wildly clever card game battled its way to the top of our tester picks. Players take turns creating fantastical animals by picking three cards: a front, middle, and back. Next, they choose a player to attack, who then makes her own critter (a CROC-ma-bee, say, or a VULqui-ster). The winner is determined by adding up the numerical strengths of the various creature parts. Translation? Math is fun! chroniclebooks.com
10. Record & Learn KidiStudio, VTech, $39.99, ages 3 to 10.
Imagine a hip-hop "Three Little Kittens" or a techno "The Wheels on the Bus." Now throw in a record for scratching, a whammy bar, a pop-up mic with voice-changer, and you'll see why this interactive music studio was a tester favorite. Aspiring DJs can compose and record their own songs in free-play mode, or choose from 20 melodies and a variety of sound effects - including cheers. vtechkids.com
(c)2014, FamilyFun magazine, FamilyFunMag.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services