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Make magic for the kids with these great gifts

Special gifts can create cherished memories for children. Here are some ideas from the authors of the "Oppenheim Toy Portfolio."

If there's a child in your life that you’d like to spoil with a special holiday present this year, you’re in luck. Joanne Oppenheim, one of the authors of the “Oppenheim Toy Portfolio,” a guide to the best toys, books and videos for kids, was invited to appear on “Today” to share some ideas for gifts that are sure to become cherished memories. Here’s a look at the items she presented on the show.

Big ticket gifts
Holidays are a time to make children's dreams come true. Chances are you can still remember a very special gift that created that kind of magic in your childhood. Here are some of the very best picks for this holiday season.

Rocking horses
(Mamas and Papas, $99 and up)Talk about classics — this is the year of the rocking horse! Whatever the size of your preschooler, there's a rocking horse that will fit. These are plush ponies with furry manes, tails, and leather saddles. For younger preschoolers, there's Topaz ($99, seat height 16 inches) or Acorn ($169.99, seat height 19 inches). The one shown on “Today” is for the biggest rider — the gliding Patches ($299, seat height 26 inches). Age: PreschoolPhone: 310-631-2222Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

Ryan's Room Adventures Ahoy
(Small World Toys, $99.99)Yahoo! Get ready for imagination to set sail with Captain Hook and two of his mates aboard this magnificent wooden ship with working sails, rigging, hatches, anchor, crow's nest, and even a plank to walk! This is a stunning gift for years of dramatic play. 34 inches wide x 24 inches high. Add-on sets with more figures available.Age: PreschoolPhone: 800-421-4153Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway Sights and Sounds Deluxe Set
(RC2/Learning Curve, $599)Here's the ultimate wooden train set — 86 pieces — enough for a group of big and little train buffs to share. There are three major working settings where trains will stop. There's the Sodor Scrub & Shine, which is like a car wash for Thomas and his friends. A turn of the crank pulls the train cars through the wash and triggers realistic wash sounds. The centerpiece of this set is the amazing Deluxe Roundhouse, which features an automatic exit for all trains plus railway sounds that are triggered when the trains come rolling out. Also fun is the Deluxe Cranky the Crane, with cranking sounds and eyes that move when he's lifting cargo up and down. There are “miles” of track, including a mountain overpass, a covered bridge, an arched viaduct and a stop-and-go depot. Best of all, everything stores neatly inside the decorative Thomas and Friends storage bench, with locking caster wheels and removable seat cushions. This toy is recommended for ages 2 and up; we'd say the mechanics of many of the pieces are more appropriate for slightly older kids and enjoyed for years to come! This is one of those "sky's the limit!" gifts that will become a family heirloom that your great-grandchildren will enjoy.Age: Preschool, early school yearsPhone: 800-704-8697 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

American Girl Nellie
(Pleasant Company, $84)The company alternates each year between historic dolls and current dolls. This year, the historic series continues with the introduction of Samantha's new best friend, Nellie, who comes to work as a servant in the house next door to Samantha's. With a big blue bow in her strawberry blonde hair and a white dress with matching blue sash, she's the image of an Irish girl of 1906. Her story focuses on her promise to care for her younger sisters when her mother dies. Also still top-rated is Kaya, the first Native American doll in the collection (Platinum Award 2003).Age: Early school years, late school yearsPhone: 800-845-0005Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

KNEX Big Air Ball Tower
(KNEX, $99.99)The wow-wee set of the season, this ball run is over five-feet tall when completed (it does require some adult assistance). It comes with more than 1,350 pieces, so it's not for the meek builder! Four D batteries power the fan that propels the plastic balls through a maze of tubing and traditional KNEX pieces. It's a fun parent­-child project for those who love to build.Age: Late school years, tweensPhone: 800-543-5639Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

(WowWee, $99)Our 11-year-old testers were thrilled with this programmable, 14-inch high, black-and-white robot that walks, dances, picks up and tosses objects, and delivers karate chops! It's not designed for instantaneous gratification — there's a manual that involves reading and thinking to make things happen. It's marked 6 and up, but we'd say it's better for 9 and up.Age: Late school yearsPhone: 514-344-1250Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

WEBZ 108
(Progressive Trading Inc., $49.95)Another generation of magnetic connectors and steel balls has arrived in time for the holiday season. This amazing set has 48 gem-toned transparent web plates in three different sizes, and 60 steel balls to create a never-ending variety of constructions. This set includes three-, four- and five-armed pieces that can be combined with bars and balls. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but lots of ways to experiment with creating domes, towers and other inventive creations. A smaller set, Webz 54 ($24.95), is fun but not nearly as versatile as the larger set. Both sets are compatible with Magz X and Skrooz — the original rod and magnet sets we've reviewed in the past.Age: Early school years, late school years, tweensPhone: 800-903-6249Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award 2005

Trikke 5
(Trikke Tech, $139)Our testers wrote: "A huge hit! The kids love this! It works well, and looks super cool, too. It operates much like the flying turtle." Designed for kids 7 to ­11 with a maximum rider weight of 150 pounds, the three-wheeled scooter will go where the rider leans. The company sells bigger models for teens and grown-ups, but we did not test them. Age: Late school yearsOppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award 2005

To learn more about these items and to find more great gift ideas, you can visit the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Web site at: