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Toys, building sets and books engage kids’ minds and hands

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Finding that perfect gift for a youngster to help tear them away from the video screen for a few moments is always a challenge, but there are several stores that sell toys that can challenge even the most ardent grade-school gamer.

At Bricks & Mini Figs in the Fiesta del Norte Shopping Center at San Mateo and Osuna, LEGOs are the thing.

Not just new sets, but everything LEGO, says owner Rick Crouse.

“We have very unique, special things,” he says.

LEGOs are great presents for youngsters, Crouse says, because it challenges them creatively and the end result is a cool design that they built.

The store has many sets targeted toward elementary-school age for both boys and girls, he says.

“We have ‘Frozen II’ LEGOs sets and lots of LEGOs for girls,” he says. “We have Friends and Elves.”

Those sets start in the $10-$15 range, he says, while a “Frozen II” castle with Anna, Elsa and Olaf can run up to $80.

“We have lots of different options,” Crouse says.

For boys, numerous “Star Wars”-related sets are always popular, he says.

“We have tons of ‘Star Wars’ with the new movie coming out,” Crouse says. “We have just released stuff like the new Yoda and Millennium Falcons. And we have many figures. Anyone that is into ‘Star Wars’ will find something they like.”

Prices range from $10 for smaller starters up to as much as $800 for out-of-date collectors’ items.

For younger children, the store also carries the LEGO big-block building sets that also come in a range of prices.

“It just depends on what you’re looking for,” he says.

Old-school toys

At Color Wheel Toys in the Nob Hill Business Center near Carlisle and Central, parents can find old-school Fisher-Price toys that they might remember from their own childhoods.

“Parents love these retro toys,” says owner Keri Piehl. “They’re great for toddlers and they’ve been updated for today so there are no long cords or pieces that they can choke on.”

The always-popular rotary pull phone looks nothing like today’s phone, of course, but youngsters still love it, she says. Cash registers, radios and pocket cameras are always big hits, as well.

Prices for the Fisher-Price toys range from $15 to $30.

The store also carries numerous Green Toys that are made in the U.S. from recycled milk jugs, Piehl says.

The sturdy, indoor-outdoor toys range from $12.50 to $28 and include such items as stacking cups, rockets and fire trucks.

For ages 4 and up, Straws & Connectors by Roylco allows budding architects and engineers to create structures large enough to use, ranging from $22 to $34.

“You can build something large pretty quickly,” Piehl says. “It’s something they can get into, or put a sheet over to make a fort or castle.”

Another great building project toy, Makedo’s cardboard construction kit, provides tools and connectors to fasten corrugated cardboard together to create projects of all kinds.

The basic, $12 set includes almost 30 connectors, a “saw” and a driver, while additional connector sets run about $8.

“What they can build is really open ended,” says Piehl, who will even provide some cardboard for free. “And when they’re done, they can just take out the connectors and reuse them again.”

Tie-dye outfits and kits never seem to go out of style and the store carries a variety. The do-it-yourself kits from Rainbow Rock run $12.

Active play

At Out of the Blue on Rio Grande, youngsters on the go will love the Primo Ride On Scooter for ages 1 to 5 for $159, says store manager Lisa Gallegos.

“The solid metal frame is hand welded, and two back wheels ensure a stable ride,” she says. “Authentic features include a cushion seat and whitewall tires.”

The Space Marble Run by Marble Genius for $39.99 is for ages 5 and up, but everyone enjoys watching the vertical drops, whirlpools and lighted pathways, Gallegos says.

“Kids will love building exciting and sturdy structures and watching marbles rush to the end,” she says. “It’s physics in action.”

When it comes to building, the neon Super Tube by Plus-Plus USA for $24.99 is perfect for kids aged 5 to 12. With about 500 pliable, interlocking, puzzle-like pieces, the creativity is endless.

Every child likes to hear themselves sing and the My Audio Life, portable Bluetooth speaker with built-in mic, $24.99, allows singers to belt out their favorites songs.

For those entranced by motion, the Mozi-Iridescent by Fun in Motion, for ages 6 and up for $14.99, features 13 intertwined stainless-steel coils that lie flat until coming to life upon being touched.

“It becomes a mesmerizing fidget toy,” Gallegos says. “Watch the shape continuously spin, move, and glide in dimensional wonder.”

For ages 8 and older, the Shashibo-Shape Shifting Blue Planet by Fun in Motion for $19.99 mixes origami with magnetism, geometry and creativity.

“Powered by 36 rare-earth magnets, this magical cube morphs into 70 amazing geometric shapes,” Gallegos says. “It calms fidgety hands, but also stimulates your brain.”

Gift of words

Books are always a great gift for children. At Bookworks on Rio Grande, a host of books will intrigue and captivate budding readers.

Written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” ($17.99), was inspired by her own struggles with childhood diabetes “and looks at how every person, despite what makes them different, has something to share with others and with society,” says Amanda Sutton, Bookworks spokeswoman.

Local author Pat Mora’s new book, “My Singing Nana” ($16.99), tells the tale of girl and her grandmother while exploring New Mexico traditions and family,” Sutton says.

New Mexico treasure Rudolfo Anaya’s new, bilingual book, “No More Bullies” ($16.95), which is illustrated by Albuquerque’s El Moises, is the second in the Owlie series.

“It introduces Owlie to some unique new friends that teach him that everyone is different and that there is no place for bullying in friendship,” Sutton says. “Plus, it’s bilingual for those looking to read to their little ones in Spanish.”

Ryan Higgins’ picture book in the popular Mother Bruce series, “Bruce & The Big Storm” ($17.99), is great for young readers.

Albuquerque author Cynthia Grady’s “Write To Me” ($7.99) delivers letters from kids during World War II.

“This book won the Jefferson Cup and the International Reading Association’s Justice Award,” Sutton says. “Great for history buffs and parents and kids interested in exploring the Holocaust in an uplifting way.”

Kwame Alexander’s “How to Read a Book” ($17.99) also is targeted toward young readers.

Albuquerque author Vanda Nelson’s “Let Her Buck” ($18.99) tells the tale of George Fletcher, a black champion rodeo cowboy.

“Great for kids who love learning about little known historical figures,” Sutton says. “Or for parents looking for diverse authors and subjects.”

The local author-illustrator team of Vanessa Vassar and Ophelia Cornet collaborated on “Evan And The Skygoats” ($18.95), “a magical tale about a family grieving the loss of their young daughter, taking refuge on a farm with some magical goats,” Sutton says. “This book is perfect for those dealing with loss during the holidays.”

Albuquerque’s Caroline Starr Rose wrote “A Race Around The World: The True Story Of Nellie Bly and Elzabeth Bisland” ($16.99), which highlights some women’s contributions to world history.

“Think Smart, Be Fearless: A Biography Of Bill Gates” ($18.99) by Sharon Mentyka, examines the computer guru who got his start in Albuquerque.