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Holiday gift guide 2016: The best gifts under $50 for tweens

Making a list and checking it twice might be Santa Claus’ job, but it’s also a responsibility that falls to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But while you don’t have the elvish assistance at the Big Guy’s disposal, you do have this: our comprehensive guide to what’s hot in Chicagoland this year. They’re all available at some of our favorite independent toy stores, and they all cost less than one bill with Grant’s face on it.

You’re welcome.

Top ideas for kids ages 10-12.

Let them get out all their pre-teen angst with the help of this lightbox that comes tricked out with 100 letters and symbols (including those ever-present emojis). There might even be enough letters for a friendly ‘clean your room’ reminder.

My Marquee light box, $39.99 (BB)


If only there were a game that could help mold your kids into actual good people. These cards challenge players to ‘become a secret agent of joy,’ with suggestions like ‘Play a board game with a stranger,’ ‘Give this card to someone who makes you smile’ and ‘Hold the door open for 10 consecutive people.’ We can feel the good karma already!

Sneaky Cards Play it Forward, $11, 12+ (M)


Pinterest has nothing on this DIY kit, which adds glamorous ambiance to your tweens room (without costing an arm and a leg). Better yet, the 600+ plastic beads will keep them occupied for at least a few hours. (If we hear Im bored one more time)

Piccalilly Beaded Chandelier Kit, $39.99, 8+ (P)


If you’ve ever blown up a picture in Photoshop, you’ve seen how all those little dots become something much more impressive. Now kids can take part in that same phenomenon, inserting tiny pegs to create the bigger picture. Plus, it comes with a frame, so others can enjoy the masterpiece.

Pixel Art Set, $29.99, 9+ (BM)


Drones aren’t going anywhere (unless it’s to our door with our latest Amazon order). This flying, climbing, rolling vehicle take radio control to new heights (it literally climbs walls), and the built-in cage means it won’t shatter into a million pieces the first time it crashes.

Odyssey Turbo Runner NX, $49.99, 8+ (G)


Escape Rooms are all the rage, but now you can try the trend from the comfort of your own home. Families with older kids can play together, or let your tween host a mystery party that’s like an edgier round of Clue. It’s all the fun of an escape room with none of the claustrophobia!

Escape The Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, $22.99, 10+ (P)


The View-Master, that orange device that clicked through discs of images, has had a 21st century makeover. Now it’s entered the realm of virtual reality, with the help of a smartphone and specially designed apps that make you feel like you’ve gone for a deep-sea dive or been launched into outer space.

View-Master VR Starter Pack, $29.99, 7+ (G)


Ever imagined creatures in the clouds or traced faces into the stars? If so, you’re ready for this game, which lets you combine 60+ icons to create unlikely people, places and things. And future Pixar employees can even animate the cards for truly eye-popping gameplay.

Imagine, $15.99, 12+ (BB)


Becky & Me Toys, Evanston

Building Blocks Toy Store, Lakeview and Wicker Park, Chicago

Galt Toys + Galt Baby, downtown and Lincoln Park, Chicago and Skokie

*play, Logan Square, Chicago

Moore Toys & Gadgets, Wheaton

Where we shopped


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