Wild Things

Salon magazine: The best children's products, reviewed by Andrea Gollin

Published June 19, 1997 9:10AM (EDT)

A hundred years ago, when Toys 'R' Us was still a glint in God's eye, a
boy might have kicked off the summer by making a squirt gun from a piece
of an old cane fishing pole, with a quill for a nozzle and a plunger
carved from cedar. By mid-July, he'd be hard at work, building a
scow-shaped rowboat. Come August, he'd have to guard his rowboat from
his sister, who, having wearied of applying dried starfish to brown
flannel to make curtains, would be eager to transform the rowboat into a
set of bookshelves for the family's seaside cottage.

Our vast knowledge of children's toys, games and activities of yore comes not from a past life (that's another story), but from "The American Boys Handy Book" and "The American Girls Handy Book." These books give kids a unique and fascinating glimpse of history, with their step-by-step instructions on a myriad of projects. Originally published in the 1880s and reprinted, the books are organized seasonally and devote large chunks to summer fun. ($12.95; for ages 10 and up, from David R. Godine)

While delayed gratification and working for your toys may have held
certain pleasures, the cane-and-quill squirt gun pales in comparison to
the Freeze Fazer, which is undoubtedly the most sadistic water gun
on the market today (we report this with pride). It's all in the name --
roomy reservoir cup accommodates ice cubes as well as water. So when the
shooter commands the target to "freeze," it's meant quite literally.
And, as a friend pointed out, this toy is not without merits for
parents. On a hot day at the beach, an ice-cold swig from a water gun
can be mighty welcome. ($6.95; for ages 5 and up, from Archie McPhee, 425-745-0711)

A good grip on the trigger is essential, but so too is a firm grip on the
ground, whether it's grass, beach or poolside, and whether said ground
is wet or dry. A tall order, but the Sports Sandal fills it, with its
water-resistant combination of rubber sneaker-like soles and cushioned,
self-adjusting straps. ($19.50; for toddlers in sizes 5-8 and for youths in
sizes 9-13 and 1-5, from Lands' End, 800-734-KIDS)

Of course, summer isn't only about running around and playing games.
Good things come to those who sit and sift. We're talking about sand
castles, holes to China and their ilk. As always, the right equipment
is a must. Sure, you can get a pail and shovel just about anywhere, but
it wouldn't be the 14-piece Sand and Water Playset. It's got a large
pail. It's got a small pail. It's got a rake, a shovel, a sifter, two
trowels -- it's got things kids 100 years ago would have gladly traded
their handmade fishing rods for. ($20.50; for ages 2 and up, item
BB3280 from Battat, 800-247-6144)

By Andrea Gollin

Andrea Gollin is a freelance writer living in Miami. Her children's summer book special continues next Thursday.

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