Gift Guide 2012: The Unformed


Cloud Cap Games

1226 SE Lexington St., 505-9344,

Toys that catapult kids into their own private worlds are great, but occasionally some old-fashioned social interaction does one good. In the name of family bonding, head to this Sellwood shop for an alternative to frenetic video games or that outdated edition of Trivial Pursuit. A whimsical tree sculpture stands at the center of this small store, which specializes in board and card games. Cloud Cap's knowledgeable staff will direct customers to options likely to please the whole clan—consider Speedeebee, a fast-paced word game, or the teamwork-based Forbidden Island, which requires players to cooperate to save the sinking treasure. To ensure that your selection leads to fun rather than feuding, Cloud Cap allows you to try before you buy or to take home a rental game (though you probably shouldn't put a bow on that one).

Buy this: Spot It!, a high-speed pattern recognition game ($13).

OMSI Science Store

1945 SE Water Ave., 797-4626,

With anemic school budgets, sometimes the science experiments just have to happen at home. You'll find everything you need for your budding biologist or promising physicist at OMSI's adjoining shop (no museum admission necessary), which stocks beginner telescopes, DVDs about dinosaurs, insect jigsaw puzzles and science kits that range from trebuchets to perfume. A brightly colored wooden abacus might make math homework more fun, and amateur architects can assemble glow-in-the-dark Crazy Forts. Plenty of gag stocking stuffers, as well: A giardia plush toy will warn your youngsters against drinking untreated river water, or you can pick up some sticky fake snot for them to sling against the wall.

1. Buy this: The Robot Duck kit ($16.99) allows you to make just that.

A Children's Place

4807 NE Fremont St., 284-8294,

As a child, I left notes for the tooth fairy asking her to please, pretty please leave me a book rather than money. (I also, weirdly, asked to keep all my teeth.) I would have been a darned happy 8-year-old tucked inside this cozy bookstore—I'd probably have found refuge by the massive Mount Hood mural, as close to a shady glen as is possible to create with paint. So if you've got a young bibliophile on your list, book it to this Cully neighborhood institution, which has operated for more than 30 years and boasts many options from local authors. Helpful categories guide visitors: fairy tales as distinguished from fairies and princesses, for example. Browsing turns up some real gems as well: There's a whole shelf of counting primers derived from classic literature (the Romeo and Juliet edition has five friends, 10 kisses and not a single death).

2. Buy this: Newbery Medal winner and Portlander Cynthia Rylant's All in a Day features Nikki McClure's gorgeous cut-paper art and encourages a seize-the-day attitude ($17.95).


1816 NE Alberta St., 335-3131,

This friendly, white-walled shop is a one-stop destination: It's got handmade clothing from local brand Wild Carrots, a menagerie of distinctive stuffed animals, whimsical mobiles and no shortage of European wooden toys—a Brio dachshund pull-toy made me squeal. But Grasshopper wins especially high marks for its selection of art supplies and musical instruments. Creative mamas and papas will find child-sized saxophones, trumpets, ukuleles and accordions for their wee ones, and the selections for crafty kids are even broader: stamp sets, origami aircraft kits, fluorescent colored pencils and supplies for hand-stitching your own tiny kangaroo. Want your kiddo to aspire to something more than an artist's bohemian existence? Snap up the Haba doctor's suitcase, stocked with wooden medical accessories.

Buy this: Djeco abstract workshop kit, filled with oil pastels for four Paul Klee-inspired masterpieces ($34).

Black Wagon

3964 N Mississippi Ave., 1-866-916-0004,

Forward-thinking parents should look no farther than this airy Mississippi Avenue boutique, which specializes in earth-friendly, sustainable and locally made goods. But buzzwords aside, Black Wagon offers its wares—clothes, toys, books and more for ages zero to 12—with a tongue-in-cheek attitude: alongside French picture books (the next best thing to a Parisian au pair, you should know) and the popular Larry Gets Lost series, you'll find Go the Fuck to Sleep and Porn for New Moms (no X-rated images here, just photos of well-toned guys being good dads). A kids' yoga deck teaches tots to be stretchy, and a brew-your-own root beer kit just might grant your youngsters some marketable skills—or at least keep them busy while you craft a more adult beverage. Black Wagon offers several racks of adorably chic clothing: In addition to everyday garments, you'll find party-ready patterned dresses for girls and pinstripe suit jackets for boys.

Buy this: Hatley rain boots, printed with horses or vintage cars ($38).

Thinker Toys

7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936,

Though this Multnomah Village store is now a teenager (it opened back in 1994), Thinker Toys still thoroughly channels all things child. It's a colorful and comfortable space that invites kids to play (there's a giant railway set in the shop), and it sells plenty of American- and European-made toys: Think medieval Playmobil sets, undersea Ravensburger puzzles and wooden blocks from Melissa & Doug. Independently owned by former schoolteachers, Thinker Toys also offers a number of perks no big-box behemoth will provide, including free gift wrap and a frequent buyer program.

3. Buy this: Hape Pound & Tap Bench ($29.99), which is like a whack-a-mole xylophone. 

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