A plush chunk of talking bacon may not be exactly what your kids hope to find under the Christmas tree. But consider this: Instead of jousting to snag the latest video game or Barbie -- and furnishing your children with the same stuff as their friends -- you can give them a huggable doll shaped like breakfast meat.
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive, but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle or Silly Putty can attest, it's often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites. They also allow kids to explore a culture through its toys, bringing the sense of discovery that comes with traveling right into your living room.
Indeed, there are toy manufacturers and home-crafters across the globe that cater to kids' taste for the bizarre. A few of the odder toys out there seem geared to kids from certain cultures. An American child, for instance, might not feel particularly inspired to play with a platter of crocheted sushi rolls, while a Japanese or Muslim child might be baffled or even horrified by that talking slab of bacon.
More often than not, though, strange toys have universal appeal. What child, for instance, wouldn't enjoy turning a boring old toothbrush into a whirring bristled robot beastie? (Parents, start planning your oral-hygiene playdates now.)
-- Sarah Gold