Gift Guide:  Picks for Families

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The following handpicked products--including games, music, video, and software--make wonderful family gifts. Every family needs a good electronic encyclopedia and an essential print shop--our favorites are included here. As well, we've recommended a "master" cooking software program, computer board and word games, multi-generational music, and a video game that everyone in the family will enjoy. Whether you are buying for your own family or someone else's, these products are sure to delight.

Software for the Family

 

Top Pick Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2002 is the latest edition of an already excellent reference suite, and it is better than ever. Beautiful to look at, filled with multimedia and helpful content, and easy to use, this reference library will help make any family's research efforts easier. It makes a fabulous gift for the family! The search feature is excellent, with content from all titles in the suite seamlessly integrated together. New streaming live media and easy updates contribute to an exceptional product. For children over approximately 12 years of age, this program will prove invaluable. Kids only just beginning to need an encyclopedia will do best with World Book 2002--it is easier to read than Encarta. However, the whole family will enjoy Encarta. The dictionary/thesaurus/almanac is superior and contemporary, the "extras" (such as games, curriculum guides, report-writing feature, 3D virtual tours, etc.) are fabulous, and the integration between the handpicked web links and the encyclopedia itself is smooth. [Buy Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2002 at Amazon.com]

Top Pick If you don't already own a print shop software program, consider buying The Print Shop Deluxe 12. It's easy to use and versatile enough to be used by kids and parents alike. Families can make stationery, greeting cards, invitations, party supplies, banners, and even supplies for a small business. [Buy The Print Shop Deluxe 12.0 at Amazon.com]

Based on the UpWords board game, which in turn is loosely based on Scrabble, this well-designed CD-ROM delivers a good time for any word-game aficionado. If you’re not already familiar with the game, players spell words on the game board grid using their letter tiles in order to score points. The twist here is that there’s a third dimension to game-play – letters are stackable, so that lone can not only become alone, but also long or along. An easy scoring system is understandable for people of all ages, and multiplayer options are available, including Internet or network play. Playing against the computer’s artificial intelligence, Maven (that will be familiar to owners of Hasbro’s Scrabble CD-ROM), is fun because you’ll never have to wait for lengthy periods while she decides which words to play, and, best yet, you get to choose her skill level. There are 10 levels of challenge, but if you get anywhere close to 10, be prepared for a humbling experience! [Buy Upwords (Jewel Case) for only $9.99 at Amazon.com]

Top Pick If your recipe cards and clippings could use a bit of organization, you may decide to stash them away altogether in favor of this fabulous CD-ROM. Mastercook Complete Suite Featuring Betty Crocker lets you browse through, and organize, a whole slew of recipes, most of which are family pleasers. You won't find many gourmet offerings in this set, yet there is enough variety in its recipes--including holiday specialties and "light" cooking--to please most family cooks. This suite is an easy to use program that features a large collection of everyday cooking recipes, along with cool features (such as an automatic recipe scaler) and cooking tips/lessons. [Buy MasterCook: The Complete Suite Featuring... for approximately $29.99 US at Amazon.com]

For family fun on the PC, the Hoyle Games line of software is a fabulous choice. These well-designed programs offer a variety of games with multiple difficulty levels and settings to appeal to people of almost any age. New to the 2002 editions are PDA-ready games. Multiplayer options also include Internet play, and the games' 3D characters add spunk to the programs. Hoyle Word Games 2002 compiles word game favorites like Crosswords and Word Searches along with more involving strategy games like Wordox. There are nine games altogether, and all are fun and educational too. [Buy Hoyle Word Games 2002 for approximately $29.99 US at Amazon.com] Hoyle Board Games 2002 features 16 computer board games, including Battling Ships, Checkers, Backgammon, Chess, Snakes & Ladders, and more.  [Buy Hoyle Board Games 2002 for approximately $29.99 US at Amazon.com]

 

 Game for the Brain 
 

Cranium is a "whole-brain" game designed for kids older than 12 and adults. Its variety of activities and questions is its most impressive feature. Players form teams and compete to get to the purple brain at the center of the board called Cranium Central. They might have to answer multiple-choice questions, act out something for others to guess, or sculpt a mystery object from clay. It's a fun and engaging game. [Buy Cranium Amazon.com for approximately $35 US]

 

 Video Games
 

PacMan World 2 for Nintendo's Game Cube is a fun video game for the entire family. Children will love the 3D platform adventure format, and, as they play, they can unlock classic arcade games that will give their parents a dose of fun nostalgia! Children collect dots and fruits, gobble up ghosts, and meet bosses on 6 fantastic levels. The arcade games include the classic PacMan, Pac Attack, Pac Mania, Ms. PacMan, and more -- these can be played using tokens that kids collect throughout the platform game. This is a treat for the whole family. [Buy Pac Man World 2 for the Game Cube at Amazon.com for $49.99 US] 

Backyard Soccer has made its console debut. Available for the PlayStation, it is now even more accessible. Kids as young as 5 or 6 can enjoy this sports simulation, and parents have been known to play Backyard Sports titles for hours too! Game-play is quite realistic, though some fantasy elements (like fun power-ups) are here to add to the fun. It is entirely kid-friendly, and emphasizes the power of the team. [Buy Backyard Soccer for the PlayStation at Amazon.com for $19.99 US] 

 

A "Starter" Digital Camera for Kids
 

An ideal starter camera for children this age is the Jam Cam 3.0. This durable entry-level digital camera allows you to snap photos, load them on your computer, edit them, and then store or publish them. Its durability means you can feel confident placing it in the hands of your 6 year old, which in turn helps build confidence and pride in your child. The results are far from perfect, but kids won't mind. [See our review. Buy KB Gear JamCam 3.0 Digital Camera (Blue) at Amazon.com]

 

Video

If they don't already own it, Shrek is an excellent video choice for families. Its humor is multi-level, designed for both adults and kids, and you'll be humming lines from its upbeat soundtrack all day long. Shrek is a feel-good video the whole family can enjoy. [Buy Shrek at Amazon.com for $14-20 US] 

 

 Music
 

Top Pick Justin Roberts' Yellow Bus is a recording aimed at children that parents will enjoy as well. It's refreshingly natural and features songs with themes that range from funny and silly to simple and sweet. [Buy Yellow Bus at Amazon.com]   

Music for Little People produces a fantastic line of recordings that the whole family can enjoy, entitled A Child's Celebration of. While most are excellent, A Child's Celebration of Song is a family favorite. Paul Simon's St. Judy's Comet and Kenny Loggins' House at Pooh Corner are just a couple of the fantastic songs on this CD. [Buy Child's Celebration of Song at Amazon.com] 

 

A Super Art Activity for the Family
 

Top Pick Yet another fabulous book/activity set has been released from Klutz. Window Art is a fun and easy art activity the whole family can enjoy. The premise is simple, but the results are nothing short of fabulous: slip an included plastic sheet over one of the book's pages of templates, use a black squirt-bottle to trace the outline of a design, then fill with more squirtable color. Each design--whether it's a family of colorful bugs, an ice cream sundae, or a collection of underwater creatures--takes about 24 hours to dry. Once set, the design becomes "clingable"--ready to display on any window of the house. The results are positively vibrant--your windows (and view) will never look better. [Buy Window Art at Amazon.com for $14-20 US] 

 

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 November 2001                                                                                                      Comments? Email us.
 

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