Guess who's back again? It's Elmo.
This year, Elmo -- this time a "hug me" version, not a "tickle me" one -- is hyped to be a big seller.
Let's take a look at what could be some of this year's top toys:
1. Big Hugs Elmo
As I mentioned, he's back. He's red, he's furry, he's lovable. When a person hugs the Elmo, he hugs the person back and talks, and when he lies on his back, he gets sleepy and sings a lullaby.
2. Cooking sets
They're not just for boys anymore. Seriously. After a New Jersey eighth-grader started a Change.org petition asking Hasbro to market to boys like her little brother, the company took note. There are not only traditional "boy colors" like blue on the oven, the art on the box depicts boys playing with it.
Prices: Easy bake oven is $45, baking sets are $8-$20.
Legos are always hot. Always. One of the most popular themes for Legos -- and it has been for more than a decade -- is Star Wars. "They fly off the shelves," said a Lego associate at a Bay Area Lego store. Also popular with the kids are Ninjago and Chyma themes, primarily because both have accompanying cartoons. The ninja figures and the speeding motorcycles probably help, too. Legos are still popular for adults, too. The "Back to the Future" Delorean set is hard to keep in stock, the associate said. (I grabbed one of the last ones she had on the shelf.)
Price: Varies by set - $3-$400. (Typically, Lego pieces cost about a dime apiece, so a $20 set should have about 200 pieces.)
4. Art sets
Letting kids express themselves through art means giving gifts that encourage creativity. There's everything from painting your own rain boots to making your own markers.
5. Video game consoles
Game console wars are on again. All the major players have a console. Nintendo has Wii U as well as a newer, smaller Wii. Sony introduced the PlayStation 4 a week ago and Microsoft's Xbox One has now been on the shelves about 72 hours. If you're into open-source gaming, maybe you want to check out the Ouya.
6. Interactive video games and characters
Skylanders, which launched a couple years ago, and now Disney Infinity characters, are part of a new trend in gaming -- adding a collectible character element. Skylanders are dragon and fantasy-type characters while Disney's Infinity line includes 20 recognizable characters like Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen. Once the character is placed on a pedestal (which comes in starter packs with the video game and a couple of characters for about $75-$100) and connected to the console, the character appears on screen where it is controlled. Different characters have different abilities. Players can collect power-ups for the character and explore different levels as Tow Mater, a one-eyed goblin or Dash Incredible.
Prices: Characters are $8-$20, starter packs are $75-$100 and include the video game and a handful of characters.
Forget laptops. Kids these days want tablets -- power at their fingertips. As usual, the hottest selling tablets are likely to be from Apple, but don't discount all the Android and Windows tablets out there -- some are quite good. Kid's electronics manufacturer, LeapFrog, has several tablets aimed at little fingers.
Have a blast shopping for the little ones -- and look for toys that encourage creativity and imagination.