When seeking that perfect holiday gift for a child, the indulgent adult may step forward gamely with an open heart and wallet and the spirit of the season oozing from every pore. Yet even the most well-intended Giver may quickly be overwhelmed by the factors determining selection. Should the gift be: Educational? Outdoor, or indoor? Is assembly required? Is it safe, and age appropriate? Does it beep in a manner that drives nearby adults wild within the work of a moment? And the final question that trumps all others: Will the parents approve?

In pursuit of the preferred answer to that last, the Gentle Giver might even request a list from said parents, presumably achieving pre-approval. Or, perhaps the Giver is shopping for a needy child, and the sponsoring organization has helpfully provided a list of “wants.”

If you have received such a list recently, you may have stopped far short of sorting through answers to the key fundamentals listed above. And that might be because you scanned the list and said to yourself, “What in the name of Rudolph ARE these blasted things?”

Fear not, Gentle Giver. This does not make you Rip Van-Scrooge Winkle. It merely confirms that no rational adult could possibly keep up with the endless parade of new crazes on today’s toy market, along with the box-office smashes that spawn many of them—that, and have time left to navigate the average tasks of daily living. Therefore, some preliminary reconnaissance may be required if you wish to have a clue what you are buying. A full inventory of current favorites would be far too encyclopedic for these Chronicles, but below are a few market research results, gleaned from recent skirmishes in the holiday shopping wars.

Despite the obvious rhyme and potential resulting trademark infringement (though I am not a lawyer and don’t play one on TV), Doc McStuffins is not an insert in a Happy Meal and cannot be obtained in the drive-through at McDonald’s. She is, in fact, an appealing school-age girl with magical opportunities to heal sick animals and broken toys, sometimes using techniques sourced to The Big Book of Boo-Boos. I rather liked her, when I located her in the toy aisle at Target, and may have to check my local listings for the show. Only when the kids come to visit, of course, ahem.

A Hex Bug Nano is not, as the name clearly suggests, an insecticide favored by Mork. It is a tiny robotized bug that leaps around in all sorts of startling movements, guaranteed to drive small males into spasms of laughter. (Caution: Prepare to restrain any nearby dog whose divine mission is to rid the house of ground-level invaders.) Proving the eternal truth of my daughter’s recent observation (“little boys are funny”), the adult-sized boy in front of me in the checkout line noticed the Hex Bug package on the conveyor belt and eyed it with clear interest. “Where’d you find that?” he asked.          hex bug 2 verticaql

And despite the amazing accomplishments of females like Doc McStuffins and the acclaimed new heroine of Star Wars, all girl lead characters in animated Disney blockbusters for children look sadly the same—wide-eyed, head full of long, luxurious hair, predictably curvaceous. But for her hair color, Frozen’s Anna is hardly distinguishable from Ariel, the Little Mermaid, or Belle of Beauty and the Beast. So you may think you are reaching for the same emblazoned items of yesteryear, but you are mistaken—unless you are shopping at your local flea market, among the antiques and collectibles. Animators, illustrators, listen up: We hereby summon you from your drawing boards and into the 21st century.

Although seriously annoying, these commercially-inflicted dilemmas pale in comparison to the age-old predicament that strikes terror in the heart of any parent who is raising an imaginative child. Such a case was shared the other day by a good friend whose niece has specified this Christmas wish: She wants a giraffe as tall as her room who can fly her anywhere she wants to go.

What are her parents to do, we ask with hearts that ache for them? There can be only one answer: Hand the entire conduct of the affair over to Santa Claus. May the Force Be With Him. And with all of us.

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