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The Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide 2008

We're so proud to be able to present our second annual Safer Toy Guide, to help steer you towards some of the handcrafted, locally made, organic, fair trade, or simply safer alternatives for the littlest people in our lives.

We want the world to know that safer doesn't mean boring, and handmade doesn't mean amateur.

And in a tight economy, we hope that you're willing to invest in better quality toys, even if that means having fewer of them. How many rattles does one kid need anyway?

Congratulations to winner Heidi who helped us spread the word by posting our CMP Safer Toy Guide button on her blog. She's the lucky winner of the $600 prize package from our friends at Bitsy Birdie and Palumba

Please note: The picks here are entirely, as always, totally 100% advertorial free. Just the stuff we love from sites and artists we trust. Speaking of which, we've done our best to ascertain that the manufacturing process of anything you see here is something we feel great about supporting.

If you love it too, help us save handmade from the CPSIA! Click to our Save Handmade Resource Page for more details.


Any baby's first toy: The rattle. These are all handmade, beautiful, and 100% photo-op ready.

*Nothing plastic is as cute as the hand crocheted animal rattles from Leifang. ($25 at Enfant-Terrible, shown)

*Also hand knit, the ultra soft cotton handknit bird rattles from Bla Bla Kids, all made by a women's cooperative in Peru.($29)

*Lovingly handmade cashmere jingle balls from Kistner Supply are gorgeously made, gorgeously presented. ($45, shown) Similarly, we love Apple Blossom Toys' cheery, handmade jingle balls in designer fabrics. ($12)

*Some of our favorite rattles double as dolls, like the vintage style baby pig or baby elephant rattle at the Baby Gardner. ($28)

*We also love the organic cotton Waldorf style doll rattles which become safe, soothing teethers when wet down and frozen. ($19 at Sparrow LA, shown)

*A new mom will definitely squee at the soft NooNoo sheep rattle made of bamboo and organic cotton. ($25 at Twig)

*Babies love the bright, colorful eco-friendly wooden rattle from Plan Toys made of sustainable rubberwood. ($12 at Happy Green Baby, shown)

*Imagiplay always scores with their all natural wooden toys, and we love their new animal baby rattles that look like a fish, bird, even a hedgehog. ($11.99)

*One more benefit of the adorable crocheted flower wrist rattle from Montana's Timberdoodle Designs? It's pretty tough to lose. ($15, shown)

  • Sparrow: $10 off orders over $100 with code Sparrowbucks10
  • The Baby Gardner: 5% off through 12/31/08 with code BGCOOL
  • Twig: 15% off through 12/31/08 with code CMPTG_15
  • Timberdoodle Designs: 10% off plus free shipping through 12/31/08 with code Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide left in Message to Seller
  • ImagiPLAY: 15% off through 12/31/08 with code KIDSTUFF
  • Kistner Supply: free US shipping through 12/31 with code HOLIDAY 08


If the toy's sole purpose in life is to occupy a toddler's mouth, these safer picks are definitely the way to go.

*For some of the nicest back-to-basics teethers made of nothing but handcrafted maple, we like the clean lines from Little Sapling (shown, $8 or two for $14) and Palumba ($10.99).

*We also love the selection of natural wooden teethers from Little Alouette, all handcrafted in Columbus. ($14+)

*From the makers of the beloved Sophie Giraffe comes the funky fungi, the Chan Pie Gnon teethers handmade out of pthalate-free rubber in the French Alps. ($13.99 at Kangarooboo, shown)

*Very simple, but very cute: Speesees organic rabbit teether. ($12 at Wild Dill, shown)

*Ringley natural teething toys feature a solid maple ring and an organic terry teething cloth, old skool style. ($14.99 at Kai Kids)

*Kathe Kruse organic moon/stars-grabbing gnome teether is almost too cute to let anyone suck on. ($23.99 at Oompa Toys, shown)


*If you like the idea of plastic gel-filled teethers, we'd strongly recommend Natursutten's safe, purified water filled fish teether made of safe, medical grade PVA. It's also available as an apple, great for all those New York City babies. ($9.99 at Kangarooboo, shown)

  • Kangarooboo: 5% with code CMP
  • Wild Dill: 15% off through 1/15/09 with code coolmom
  • Little Alouette: 10% off maple teethers through 12/15/08 with code weewood left in Message to Seller
  • Kai Kids: 15% off through 12/31/08 with code Coolmom

Stacking up and
knocking down

Our own kids have blocks and stacking toys passed down from their own grandparents. We love each of these picks for their beauty and enduring quality.

*The vibrant, handcrafted wooden stacking tower puts its plastic cousins to shame. ($36 at Romp or Willow Tree Toys, shown)

*Similarly, the quality of the two-tone maple and walnut stacking toy is exquisite. It's handmade with love by Little Sapling Toys in Northern California. ($24, shown)

*Plan Toys has a nice twist on the stacking toy with their stacking tree for toddlers. ($19.90 at Hazelnut Kids)

*Blocks that double as keepsake gifts? Absolutely. We love the set of six handmade blocks from Hiccup Inc. at Happy Chickadee in beautiful color combinations. ($20)

*The stunning BOK wooden block sets from Petit Flaneur are substantial, stylish and smart too--they're like four toys in one. ($52, shown)

*Holgate Toys' USA-made wooden baby blocks are way cuter than anything on the shelves of your mass toy store. ($15 at Bitsy Birdie)

*Vilac's stacking animal tower is such a fun twist on blocks, kids will love it for years. ($20 from Bright October, shown)

*Bright wooden nesting blocks are a good pick for baby's first toychest. ($34 at Our Green House)

*As kids get older, that's where the real fun begins. This German-made all-in-one wooden house and puzzle is great for little hands and little minds. ($49.95 at Natural Pod, shown)

*Water blocks from Plan Toys are a preschool staple for good reason. ($24.99 at Oompa Toys)

*When block stacking becomes civilization building, check out Oompa's architectural blocks from better toymakers around the world. Good luck picking just one.

  • Natural Pod: Free shipping with code CMPship1008 (excludes the natural chef's kitchen)
  • Bitsy Birdie: 10% off through 1/31/09 with code safertoys
  • petit flaneur: 10% off through 12/31/08 with code COOLMOM left in Message to Seller
  • Our Green House: 10% off with code cool
  • Happy Chickadee: 15% off through 12/31/08 with code cmptoy15
  • ROMP: 10% off through 12/15/08 with code cool
  • Hazelnut Kids: 10% off (excluding furniture and kitchens) through 12/31/08 with code COOLMOM
  • Bright October: 10% off through 12/31/08 with code coolmom

Leaving skid marks
on the floor

Zooming, vrooming and burning invisible rubber are among the great joys of childhood, even more so when the toys are so beautifully made.

*The Little Tipper dumptruck is beautiful, functional, and handmade by developmentally challenged adults at Camphill Village. ($39.90) If you have a serious builder in the house, go for the full 46-piece Heavy Hauler. ($65 at Nova Natural, shown)

*For more classic wooden fun, check out the little rollie vehicles handmade by North Star Toys individually or as a set of eight. ($6, $45)

*Colorful, wooden, handmade, and cute? It can be found! We love Maple Landmark's biplane--and the moving propellor is a great touch. ($32 at Wild Dill, shown)

*For a plane a little more streamlined--and pricey--Swedish toymaker Playsam's sleek jetliner is stunning. ($79.95, Mad Cat Toys)

*For a step up from the mass-produced toy race car, check out HaPe's E-Racer Collection made of sustainable bamboo. ($17.95 at Fatbrain Toys, shown)

*Polish toymaker Bajo is now making an extra-large, extra-shiny, extra-fun future car for games of "capture the alien." ($30.99 only at Oompa)

*What Every Baby Needs has an amazing selection of wooden critters on wheels including a classic, heirloom quality wooden duck pull toy. ($56, shown)

*Brian Driscoll's handcrafted pull toys are spectacular; check out the dragonfly for something really special. ($34 at Craftsbury Kids)

*Love the vibrant German-made train at Quiet Hours Toys. A real keepsake. ($89.95)

*Adults love Automoblox too and new this year, the A-9S convertible. ($38, shown) The pieces come apart then mix and match with other models so kids can make their very own Jacksonmobile or Olivia Racer.

*On the other end of the spectrum, Mini Mites trucks and cars are US made, and priced to make great stocking stuffers. ($3.90 at the Traveling Toy Store)

Rocking and Riding

We love that all these picks are fueled by good old-fashioned kid power, not batteries.

*Scooters just keep getting more and more awesome. Behold the gorgeous U Roll scooter from California's 10 Grain Studio. (Shown, $175 with free ship at Fawn and Forest)

*For the coolest tricycle on the block, try the Triciclino from Italtrike is bellissimo. ($179.99 at Oompa Toys, shown) There's one for you parents of twins, too! ($191.99)

*Or skip the training wheel stage and go right to the Pedobike, a German-made cross between a scooter and a pedal-free bicycle. ($229 at Mini Jake with free ship)

*Offi Kids has been making their sturdy, safe, classic rocking horse for fifty years with good reason. (Shown, $149 at Mini Jake with free shipping)

*For an entry-level version, we like Little Sapling Toys' handmade pine rocking horse in part because it's low enough for even smaller cowboys and cowgirls. Great price too. ($49 from Little Sapling Toys)

*Hobby horses continue to charm kids of all ages, and a truly special one is the handcrafted riding horse (or giraffe) from fiber artist Judy Taylor. Provided your kid was very, very good this year. (Shown, $98 at Mahar Dry Goods)

*Another stunning option are the heirloom wooden hobby horses at Craftsbury Kids made by an Irish toy artist. ($145)

*Roebuck Studio's handmade plywood bunny scooter is that holiday gift you bring out last--or the others won't get any attention. (Shown, $180 at Mahar Dry Goods)

*Of course if you had the rare investment that paid off this year, you'll want nothing less than the one-of-a-kind handcrafted magic riding horse from Goose Greek with real leather accents. A mere $1099 at Green Little Beans.


Playthings that inspire pretend play may be our most favorite of all. Let's hear it for the junior superheroes, princesses, and five-star chefs of the world.

*Handmade capes from Ellie Bellie Kids let boys and girls be their own heroes, all without the aid of licensed characters or PVC. ($30, shown)

*If you have a budding princess-ballerina-fairy, we love the tutus from Kennedy and Friends, handmade in Missouri in lovely color combos. Not all pink, either! ($36)

*Petit Flaneur makes the most exquisite, hand printed dollhouses made of pressed wood, with included furnishings to match. ($145, shown)

*Dollhouses hardly get more incredible than the wholly handmade dollhouse made entirely of eco-harvested alder wood. ($250 from Quiet Hours Toys) Then Willow Tree Toys has all the handmade doll furniture you need to fill it. ($7.95+)

*It's always a good idea to have a carpenter around the house. Start your kiddo off early with the wonderful toolbox from French toymaker Vilac. ($32.99 at Moolka, shown)

*Porcelain tea sets can chip and plastic plastic-y. Unless it's Green Toys' colorful tea set made in California of recycled milk jugs. It even meets FDA standards, should real food ever be served. (Shown, $24.95 from Kate's Caring Gifts)

*One of the best non-plastic selections of play food comes from Quiet Hours Toys. (Shown, $4.60 and up)

*Haba has just launched a line of yummy fabric play food, and we're inclined to splurge on the whole Veggie Crate or Sweet Set. ($12+ at Petit Baby)

*For a big deal, splurge-tastic gift for your fave little chef, our favorite play kitchens this year hail from Palumba and Natural Pod, both of which will be around for generations. Worth a look--and a drool. ($350 and $355)

  • Quiet Hours Toys: 10% off through 12/22/08 with code coolholiday
  • Natural Pod: Free shipping with code CMPship1008 (excludes the natural chef's kitchen)
  • petit flaneur: 10% off through 12/31/08 with code COOLMOM left in Message to Seller
  • Moolka: 10% off through 12/31/08 with code cmspecial
  • Kennedy and Friends: 20% off through 12/20/08 with code Cool Mom Picks left in Message to Seller
  • Ellie Bellie Kids: 20% off through 12/31/08 with code CMP
  • Petit Baby: 15% off non-sale items through 12/31/08 with code CMP15
  • Willow Tree Toys: 10% off all in-stock toys (not shipped from manufacturer) through 11/15/08 with code WTTCM


How can you not love a toy that helps a kid unleash all that creativity? (Hopefully not on the living room walls.)

*Handmade organic play dough from Clementine Art is handmade, smells divine and comes with fun play tools like a rolling pin. ($38, shown)

*Older kids love sewing kits, and Sparrow Kids makes great ones, including this felt bag that looks like a red bus. (Shown, $20 at Nico & Zoe)

*The Threadabilities make-your-own barrette kits are a fabulous (and inexpensive!) gift for any girl, crafty or not. ($8.50 from Happy Housequilts)

*It's always said that kids would just as well play with a cardboard box. Behold the cardboard playhouse that your kids can decorate themselves ($39.90 at Starlooks Boutique), the Imagination Box Cottage ($20 at Wild Dill), and the smaller doll-sized version from Creative Toyshop - love the treehouse! ($24.99, shown)

*We also love the sturdy, durable recycled cardboard rocket ship which won't look like a blank canvas for long. ($74 at Natural Pod)

*Portland's Stubby Pencil Studio has an ever growing selection of eco art supplies, including beautiful soy crayon rocks ($6.95, shown), fun metallic eco-pencils ($5.95), and washable markers made with 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. ($3.95)

*Hit Nova Naturals for an incredible arts & crafts department for everything from puppet making to candle making to origami (which is pretty safe unless you consider the risk of paper cuts).

*The selection of fair trade instruments from Jamtown includes wonderful instrument craft kits so that kids can paint their own wooden drums and percussion instruments--then play them. That's double the creativity. ($7.95+, shown)

  • Natural Pod: Free shipping with code CMPship1008 (excludes the natural chef's kitchen)
  • Wild Dill: 15% off through 1/15/09 with code coolmom
  • Creative Toyshop: 15% off through 12/31/08 with code coolmom
  • Starlooks Boutique: 10% off orders over $50 through 12/31/08 with code CMP08STAR
  • Stubby Pencil Studio: Free pack of Color 'n Kids Six Frosty Friends coloring cards with any purchase through 12/31/08 with code CMP-FF08
  • Clementine Art: $5 off through 12/15/08 with code CLEMENTINE
  • Nico and Zoe: 15% off orders over $25 through 12/25/08 with code nzCMPSafe08

Yes there are in fact dolls that come from an artist's own imagination and not an animated series. Here are just a few of our handmade faves this year.

*The adorable, made-to-order dolls from Bumblebird are a perfect first baby doll, soft and cuddly beyond belief. (Shown, $24.95 at The Silly Wagon)

*Jenny Kraus's bright, happy Yo Yo Dolls are handmade by Bolivian artists, and should be a required purchase for every new mom. ($26, shown)

*There are so many styles of soft, handknit Boogaloo dolls from Bla Bla, there's one to match any kid or any decor. Johnny in particular cracks us up. ($38)

*For a doll that looks just like your little girl, Poot and Boogie makes beautiful custom dolls. You pick the skin color, hair, and more. (Shown, $39.95 at Natural Pod)

*A splurgier made-to-order doll comes from Waldorf Treasures which makes stunning, substantial dolls to look just like your son or daughter, or even a favorite storybook character. Order now, they can take up to 8 weeks. ($138+)

*There are not nearly enough cute, red, stuffed dinos in the world. Bholu's version is made by fair trade women artisans in India. (Shown, $42 at the Pajama Squid)

*For another stuffed animal not mass produced in China out of plastic pellets and polyester, we love the soft, cuddly bright blue rabbit handcrafted by Manuella. ($40 at the Pajama Squid)

*Hey, let's not forget our sons need cuddle-time too. We love Kata Gold's hand-stitched little boy dog which can even be personalized--to help keep his sister's hands off it. ($79 + 8 for personalization at Arte Bébé)

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