If you have any relatives in the toy industry or who live near a toy warehouse, now is the time to use them. This year's must-have for Christmas is a battery-operated hamster. The robotic hamsters, and there are four to collect, go by the names of Numnums, Pipsqueak, Chunk and Mr Squiggles. They all respond to touch with squeaks and have two activity modes: "explore" and "nurturing". A host of accessories are available including a surfboard (for Chunk, the laid-back surfer hamster), a house and a car, as well as sections of a hamster run. As the promotional video says: "You'll love your Zhu Zhu Pets because they are so fun, without the mess." The hamsters have been flying off the shelves in the UK and the US, although one US consumer group has just come out with claims that the toy may contain a chemical that makes it unsafe. The makers of the toy deny any risk, stating on their website that "Mr. Squiggles is absolutely safe and has passed the most rigorous testing in the toy industry for consumer health and safety". It is yet to be seen what impact this will have on future sales, but according to Hamleys toy shop in the UK: "Demand has been overwhelming, with the website selling over 200 hamsters in less than an hour and Regent Street stocks being wiped out on the day of delivery."
The hamsters, marketed as Zhu Zhu Pets in the US and Go Go Pets in the UK, have also sold out on most online stores and will be available at Hamleys in the Middle East by the end of January. However, all the shops I spoke to here are frantically trying to stock up. Some Go Go Hamsters can be found online on Amazon but at about four times their original price of Dh60. If you can't get your hands on a hamster, consider a cat. Toys R Us stocks the motion-sensitive My Cuddlin' Kitty (Dh399), which miaows as you pass by.
If you come across a group of six to eight-year-old boys huddled around something in the park, it's unlikely to be a beetle that holds their fascination but rather the boys' toy of the moment, Bakugan. Spawned by the popular television cartoon series of the same name, these colourful, walnut-sized balls open up to reveal a Bakugan warrior when placed on a magnetic "gate card". Children can play the Bakugan game using the cards, or simply use them for pretend play, depending on their age.
Such is the popularity of these toys that only Gulf Greetings stores have them on their shelves in Abu Dhabi. Hamleys in Dubai Mall also has them. I am assured, however, that Toys R Us has stocks on order that are expected any day now. There are plenty of the larger Bakugans on key rings as a potential substitute from Toys R Us or Hamleys in Dubai, or order the smaller, more popular ones online through Amazon. Each Bakugan costs around Dh39, with starter packs of three available for around Dh90, or slightly cheaper online.
If F1 fever has not died down in your house, then there is plenty to amuse fans of Abu Dhabi's newest sporting craze. Toys R Us has a 25 per cent discount on its range of Ferrari remote-control cars, which includes a scale model of Felipe Massa's Ferrari, complete with an F1 steering-wheel-inspired remote control, either hand-held or on a wristband. Expect to pay from Dh129 for a 1:24 scale model or Dh179 for a 1:12 scale model. The 1:12 scale version of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari comes in a close second at Dh169. Little F1 fans need not be left out; there is also the Ferrari sit-on-and-ride car for one to four-year-olds (Dh349).
Even Lego is in on the act. For Dh149 you can buy a Lego Racers kit to build your own F1 car. The kit includes a mini Raikkonen and mini Massa Lego man. For Dh625 there is the Lego Ferrari 1:9 scale model, suitable for nine to 14-year-olds, also from Toys R Us. It is guaranteed to keep them busy at least until school goes back. Ben 10, the Cartoon Network's boy action hero, is as popular as ever and this month Hamleys is launching a new range of Ben 10 Alien Force toys. All the aliens, including Humungousaur, Ben 10's action cruiser and watch will be on sale. Prices range from Dh49 to Dh299.
In Barbie's 50th birthday year, the statuesque blonde is encouraging her fans to look past mere appearance and believe in their inner potential. This Christmas you could buy your daughter Barbie the paediatrician (or, as she is marketed, Barbie Baby Doctor) complete with surgery and patients (Toys R Us, Dh129). We await with bated breath the arrival of Mattel's Twilight Barbie. The doll versions of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen are currently only available online on the American Toys R Us site.
For girls who love baby-like dolls, the must-have this Christmas is the Baby Alive doll, which for Dh359 will pee, poop, talk, cry and eat. The doll's mouth moves as she calls out: "Hi mummy, I'm hungry." Girls will also love the Playmobil Take Along Dolls House (Magrudy's, Dh359), which can be furnished with, and incorporated into, other Playmobil sets. To encourage your children to become young scientists, there are plenty of affordable Christmas gifts to choose from. Toys R Us sells the EduScience 50mm Land and Sky Telescope at 90x power for Dh69 and the EduScience Crystal Growing Kit for Dh99. Magrudy's stocks the University of Cambridge's My First Lab: Chemistry Set for Dh250.
On the book front, a favourite among boys aged eight years and older is Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Magrudy's, Dh 33). Written in diary format, this is the first of four books about a boy called Greg Heffley starting a new school. Girls aged seven and older will enjoy the latest book from the former British Children's Laureate Jacqueline Wilson, Hetty Feather (Magrudy's, Dh85) about a girl living in the Foundling Hospital in Victorian England.
Hannah Montana fans will be pleased to see that Miley Cyrus has written a best-selling autobiography of her 16-year life. Miles to Go is available in hardback from Magrudy's for Dh78. Twilight fans will enjoy The Twilight Journals, in which they can practise their "Mrs Cullen" signatures. The journals (roughly postcard size) come in a keepsake tin and cost Dh108 at Magrudy's. @A&L-SubheadDivider:Gift alternatives
If you dread having to add more toys to your children's stockpile of gifts from previous Christmases and birthdays, there is an alternative, and one that might open your children's eyes to the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. If your child can understand the concept of a gift that they can't actually hold, why not buy them a snail farm in Africa? Concern Universal, through its website www.concernuniversal.org, is a charity registered in the UK that works to improve the lives of some of the world's poorest people. For Dh65 you can buy a breeding stock of giant snails for a smallholder in Nigeria. Snails reproduce quickly and can be sold for food (they are a delicacy and a good source of protein) and their shells made into jewellery. For Dh165, you can buy an African-designed beehive, or for Dh30 a chicken for a family in The Gambia. Once the gift is purchased, you will receive either a digital or a hard-copy certificate describing the gift you have given.
Perhaps your child would prefer to be the virtual owner of a cow? Send a Cow (www.sendacow.org.uk) is another charity that helps communities in Africa. For Dh750 you can send a cow to help a family start a business and feed themselves, or for Dh120 you can buy them a fuel-saving stove. Alternatively, your child can sponsor their favourite animal for Christmas with the World Wildlife Fund. On www.worldwildlife.org (for the US) or www.wwf.org.uk (for the UK), you can sponsor a turtle, a tiger or a black rhino, among other creatures. For a minimum sponsorship of £3 (Dh18) a month, your child will receive a fluffy toy of whichever animal they are sponsoring, updates about their animal three times a year and other fun bits and pieces in a starter pack.
The World Wildlife Fund also has an online shop that will deliver worldwide more conventional, but ethically sourced, presents. Choose from organic, recycled, Fair Trade, FSC, Green Tick or Traded Fairly Products and know that your money will go to a good cause. If climate change is a hot topic in your house, you can make a small contribution to stop global warming by buying your child a tree. Either pop down to the plant souq in Mina Port in Abu Dhabi, or buy one online for them to enjoy when they visit relatives overseas. Several countries around the world have websites that allow you to send a tree as a gift, and some even deliver them wrapped with a card. The website www.tree2mydoor.com sells, for Dh260, a British-grown hazel tree that has been inoculated with the rare native British summer truffle spores, so your child can laze in the tree's shade while grandma and grandpa collect the home-grown truffles.
Whether you go green, fluffy or garishly plastic with your presents, the joy is nearly always in the giving. Make sure those letters to Santa are written early and subject to your scrutiny (and note-taking) prior to posting to avoid disappointment on Christmas morning (and, just in case, keep the receipts).