Top-Rated Toys of This and Other Seasons: A Gift Guide

PHOTO: The T.M.X Elmo is seen at the Toys R Us store in New York, Sept. 19, 2006.
Daniel Barry/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Looking for fun, educational toys for your kids? The annual Toy of the Year Awards can help you narrow the search.

These awards are run by the Toy Industry Association and analyze toys nominated in different categories, with awards for everything from best boy toy to girl toy to educational toy.

The ballot is overseen by a nominations committee of major retailers, TIA board members, toy trade journalists and academics. To inspire you in your search for the perfect toy this season, here are the winners of the overall "Toy of the Year" award for the last eight years.

And click here for an interactive guide to help you with this year's holiday shopping

LEGO Friends, LEGO Group

PHOTO: A model house and figures from the Lego "Friends" range for young girls.
Freya Ingrid Morales/Bloomberg/Getty Images
2013

The winner of 2013's "Toy of the Year" was also the must-have toy for girls of the 2012 holiday season: LEGO Friends, a line of LEGO products targeted toward girls ages 5 and up.

The initial run of over 20 construction sets was centered on a group of five friends, Andrea, Emma, Mia, Olivia, and Stephanie, who live in the fictional Heartlake City. The sets reflected the diverse interests of the group, with sets for horseback riding and karate classes.

LEGO Friends was the most-researched LEGO concept ever done by the world's leading construction toy company, LEGO Group. The toy line more than doubled its initial sales forecast in its first year on the market in 2012, resulting in a demand for the product that out run its supply.

The LEGO Friends product "Olivia's House" topped the LEGO Group's list of bestselling sets for 2012. The set sells for $79.99 on Amazon.com.

LeapPad Explorer, LeapFrog

PHOTO: The LeapPad2 Explorer, by LeapFrog.
Amazon
2012

When the LeapPad Explorer won "Toy of the Year" in 2012, that was not the only prize it took home that year, also grabbing the group's "Educational Toy of the Year" and "Preschool Toy of the Year."

The product, a personalized "learning tablet" targeted at the 4 to 9 demographic, received praise from parents, retailers, and educators alike. The tablet, which included an on-board camera and video recorder, offers a library of more than 100 learning cartridge games, apps and videos.

LeapFrog is no stranger to the "Toy of the Year" awards, after first winning Toy of the Year in 1999 for the original LeapPad Learning System and again in 2006 for the FLY Pentop Computer.

The Sing-a-ma-jigs, Mattel

PHOTO: Fisher-Price Sing-a-ma-jigs dolls are displayed at Toy Fair 2010 in New York, Feb. 14, 2010.
Jin Lee/Bloomberg/Getty Images
2011

The winner of the 2011 "Toy of the Year" Award was a set of stuffed animals with a special talent for bursting into song: The Sing-a-ma-jigs.

Created by Mattel, Inc., the Sing-a-ma-jigs characters are "free-spirited, off-beat plush characters that set off unexpected laughter and excitement with each squeeze of their tummies."

When The Sing-a-ma-jigs! "sing" the toy's mouth opens wide with each note, creating a look and sound that is "truly engaging" for children. The toys talk, sing their own song, and when put in a group, sing in harmony.

The Sing-a-ma-jigs also received 2011's "Innovative Toy of the Year" and "Preschool Toy of the Year" awards.

Zhu Zhu Pets, Cepia LLC

PHOTO: "Zhu Zhu Pets" toys, pocket-sized hamster dolls
Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Images
2010

The 2010 "Toy of the Year" was a surprise bestseller for the previous holiday season, Zhu Zhu Pets.

Zhu Zhu Pets are small hamsters on wheels, designed to move around and sound like their real counterparts.

The Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters came along as a popular toy that sold very well in rough economic times with its low price tag of $7.99. But because the toy sold out so fast many consumers resorted to paying high mark-ups through eBay and Craigslist.

The toy also won 2010's "Girl Toy of the Year" and "Most Innovative Toy of the Year."

Cepia followed up their success with the original series with Zhu Zhu Babies and Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters series.

Bakugan Battle Brawlers Battle Pack Series 1 Spheres, Spin Master

PHOTO: The Bakugan Battle Brawlers Battle Pack Series 1 Spheres, by Spin Master.
Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Getty Images
2009

Spin Master took home "Toy of the Year" for the second year in a row for their Bakugan Battle Brawlers, after winning the same award the previous year for another product.

Spin Master's, a Canadian toy company, earned their second win with this collectible game made up of small spheres that pop open into "powerful Bakugan warrior action figures" when rolled accurately onto the game's accompanying "Gate Cards."

Children would win battles by successfully selecting warriors and gate cards that would beat their opponents.

The Bakugan toy line has been expanded into several new styles and additions to the original game.

Air Hogs Havoc Heli Laser Battle, Spin Master

PHOTO: The Air Hogs Havoc Heli Laser Battle, by Spin Master.
Amazon
2008

Spin Master began its two-year winning streak in 2008, when the "Toy of the Year" award was given to their Air Hogs Havoc Heli Laser Battle set.

The toy came complete with two assembled helicopters, two transmitters with built-in chargers, a tail prop tool, and even adhesive counterweight stickers. The helicopters had actual landing skids and realistic-shaped bodies.

Though it is difficult to find new sets of the toy today, used or "like new" sets can be found second hand online and are usually sold as collectibles.

T.M.X Elmo, Fisher-Price

PHOTO: The T.M.X Elmo is seen at the Toys R Us store in New York, Sept. 19, 2006.
Daniel Barry/Bloomberg/Getty Images
2007

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the original Tickle Me Elmo doll, T.M.X. Elmo, or Tickle Me Extreme, was released on September 19, 2006, with the unveiling of the toy on ABC's "Good Morning America."

T.M.X. Elmo, who came in his own box marked "Warning" or "Top Secret," was designed to increase his response each time a child "tickled" him on his chin, belly, or foot, ending with him rolling on the flooring pounding his fists while giggling after being "tickled" for the third time in a row.

The toy was honored with not only the "Toy of the Year" Award in 2007, but also the "Infant/Preschool Toy of the Year."

The demand for T.M.X. Elmo was so high that some dolls were sold for as much as $400 on eBay. The high demand for the doll was similar to that of the original Tickle Me Elmo, which caused a buying frenzy for the holiday season in 1996.

FLY Pentop Computer, LeapFrog

PHOTO: The FLY Pen Top Computer, by LeapFrog.
Amazon
2006

In 2006, just six years into the business, LeapFrog became the only company to have won the "Toy of the Year" award twice. While the first time was for their very first product, the original LeapPad, their 2006 win was for their FLY Pentop Computer.

The toy was actually not a computer at all, but a pen with a computer inside which would create an "interactive computer screen" out of paper. The FLY was designed to give users "real-time" audio feedback to assist children with homework.

Learning software developed to go along with the FLY included FLY Through(TM) Algebra, FLY Through(TM) Writing and FLY(TM) Memorizer.

In 2009, LeapFrog discontinued both the manufacture and support for the device, as well as all accessories. However, FLY Pentop Computers can be found for purchase through online retailers, like Amazon.com.

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