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Toy Testers rule at Cardinal Maida Academy in Vandergrift

This was the kind of test every student wants to ace.

An eager second-grade class at Cardinal Maida Academy in Vandergrift has 7- and 8-year-olds who are ready, willing and more than able to partake in the Valley News Dispatch’s annual toy testing to help determine hot toys of the Christmas season.

Excitement builds with each step as the pupils march from the library down a flight of steps. Walking in order quickly turns to skips and jumps when they see what surprise awaits in the classroom. Mouths drop open and squeals erupt — “Oh my gosh! Toys!”

The best toy there• Depends who you ask.

A trio of boys — Mason Hall, 7, Christopher Masseri, 7, and Anthony Blackgrove, 7 — agrees Dragon Universe, Ultimate Action Dragon Destroyer, is absolutely the coolest thing going. The Lego-based toy has two dragons and a ship that has to be assembled by snapping blocks into place. The boys work together to bring the toy to battle status. Christopher finds all the right pieces as Anthony and Mason put them together.

“We love these kinds of toys,” says Cameron Wolverton, 8. “I built the first dragon,” Christopher adds. Rowan Alexander, 7, agrees it was the best toy there.

Was it hard to put all those tiny pieces together• “Yes. That’s the challenge and it’s really fun,” Anthony says.

The girls in the class are drawn to adorable, soft and colorful Sing-A-Ma-Jigs. The trio of soft dolls quickly becomes a playful chorus as they shape perfect “Os” with their terrycloth mouths. “Look, when he opens his mouth, you can see his tongue. Neat!” says Holley Shuster, 7.

Holley says she saw the Sing-A-Ma-Jigs at Target and thought they were so cool. Holly Elliott, 8, agrees: “They are the best thing here.”

Bailee Grey, 7, loves everything she touches, but especially the soft, snuggly, Kohl’s plush character Max from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Lauren Paullet, 8, feels the same way. “I love Max. He’s so soft !” Bela Dixon, 7, pipes in that she favors the bright-green Grinch . Poor Winnie the Pooh is deemed too babyish for these second-graders and is left on the table.

The girls also are gaga for MixPups , pets with interchangeable parts that come in blister packs. Holly flips off the top of a head and says: “You can pop their heads off and switch them!” Bailee chimes in: “You can put a coat on them!”

The girls in the group give Disney’s Tangled Rapunzel Braided Friends Hair Braider a few attempts, but soon, the long locks on Rapunzel, indeed, are tangled and the toy is abandoned. However, Holly and Bailee agree that after you braided her hair, you could play with the doll.

The pull-along Musical Pirate Ship with its primary colors and various nooks and crannies, including a place to stash the treasure chest, has a visit from Disney’s Tangled Rapunzel Fashion Doll being held by Renee Tomiczek, 8. As she cradles the doll, she flips a lever to shoot a plastic cannonball. “I like it when it shoots out the ball,” she says.

Attention Santa: Nathan Alexander, 7, declares he wants Adventures on Misty Island . “I want this for Christmas,” he says. “It’s really fun.”

At first, several boys poke fun at one of the kids for playing with the Thomas The Train railroad playset. Then, several minutes later, as the train tracks take shape, all the boys decide it really is cool and jump in. “How’s it going up there guys?” Cameron Wolverton, 8, asks as he joins the assembly line.

As the group tinkers, they admit none of them is too old for the train set. Too old• “Nah. I think people should get this for their kids,” Nathan says.

Although Jake Karns, 7, considers the Toy Story 3 Buzz Lightyear Deluxe Action Wing Pack “pretty amazing” and Noah Smith, 7, enjoys the colors and neat noises coming from the Wing Pack, it doesn’t garner much actual play. The fastener clips are tough to pull apart, and although it should have been as easy as pulling on a school backpack, the tight straps make it seem like it is for smaller kids.

The kids at first largely ignore Mega Blocks , a large bag of blocks that snap into each other and can take whatever shape imaginations can come up with. Mason Hall, 7, says he has them at home, but feels they are more for younger kids. But classic toys are classics, and before the session is over, the blocks are out of the bag and taking shape in excited hands.

A U-Build Battleship garners looks, but there’s not enough time to build the actual ships in the short time we visited the class. “I wish the battleships were already built,” Joe Collini, 7, says. Rowan Alexander, 7, adds that the Lego battleship is “better than the one I have at home.”

Several books from the Kohl’s Care program are on the table, and Annabella Dixon, 7, enjoys the “Animals” book, “because I love animals.” The other books get a quick glimpse, including the Dr. Seuss Grinch book, but this is time for toys, not reading. (The class was grateful to receive several books from us as a thank-you for their time. They also can’t wait to open an interactive Advent Kalendar launched by Lego, another memento of our visit.)

Kudos to teacher and principal Patsy Majeran who had the kids help put the toys back in the boxes. Most are bound for the Alle-Kiski HOPE Center in Tarentum for kids who might not otherwise have a chance to play with the season’s hot toys. “Be gentle; these are for the kids at the orphanage, right?” whispers one girl as she carefully places the treasures back in the boxes and bag. Otherwise, she sure would like to keep the MixPups!

Staff writer Sis Reola contributed to this report.

Parents alert

Here are the toys our students tested, with a description, the manufacturer, price and age recommendations.

* Adventures on Misty Island — Based on the movie “Thomas and Friends: Misty Island Rescue,” this playset allows children to build a train set through tunnels and mountains of Misty Island. Includes Thomas and James train characters with pull-along carts.

By MEGA Brands. $59.99. 3 and older

* Disney’s Tangled Rapunzel Braided Friends Hair Braider — Doll on a stand; Rapunzel’s long locks are braided when a girl gives a section of the doll’s hair to an animal friend to hold while the girl turns the handle.

By Mattel. $29.99. 3 and older

* Dragon Universe, Ultimate Action Dragon Destroyer — Man and beast clash for ultimate survival. A 215-piece fully buildable spaceship with multiple sections, soldiers, missile launchers that fire, dual-landing gears that double as Destroyer flight sticks. Action triggers activate light-up engines and unleash flight battle sounds.

By MEGA Brands. $49.99. 6 and older

* MEGA Bloks — Bag of 80 large blocks that children can snap together to create and build items.

By MEGA Brands. $19.99. 1 and older

* MixPups — Poseable, collectible, pocket-size puppies that can be mixed and matched.

By Jazware. $5.99. 4 and older

* Pull Along Musical Pirate Ship — A pirate ship on wheels that plays a buccaneer tune, transforms into secret hideout and features a secret trap door for treasures, a working cannon and pirate characters.

By MEGA Brands. $29.99. 1 and older

* Sing-a-ma-jigs! — Offbeat plush characters that chatter and sing when their tummies are squeezed.

By Mattel. $12.99. 3 and older

* Toy Story 3 Buzz Lightyear Deluxe Action Wing Pack — Kids can feel just like the big-screen hero with the wearable wingpack with wings that pop out and wingtips that light up. Features Buzz’s signature phrases.

By Mattel. $49.99. 6 and older

* U-Build Battleship — New version of the classic strategy game. Players build and customize their fleet of ships.

By Hasbro. $16.99. 7 and older

* Grinch and Max — Soft, plush characters and hardcover books from the classic Dr. Seuss books.

By Kohl’s. $5. 1 and older


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