Never send a grownup to do a kid’s  job. That’s why, when it came time to review the season’s latest toys and games, we drafted a pair of children: Paul, 11, and his seven-year-old sister, Maggie. The duo spent a full day playing with popular toys before settling on five favorites; they then drafted their parents to join them in a weekend of board games (albeit with mixed results). Parents will be happy to know that most of our panel’s favorites came in under $35. BEHIND-THE-SCENES PHOTOS »


1. Pleo Plug in the battery and this high-tech dinosaur comes to life, evolving in hours to an expressive, ambulatory creature. The kids bonded immediately with the playful, bright-eyed camarasaurus, treating it more like a real-life pet than a hot-wired automaton. $349.99 at Target; for locations,  


2. Dragon Backyard Flyer Launch this plane from its hand-held charger and watch it take flight, its propeller spinning as it loops and dives. Flying this aircraft in a crowded downtown plaza made for some perilous moments; it’s probably best deployed in a large, open field. $19 at Toys et Cetera; for locations,  


3. Webkinz Stuffed animals still exert an irresistible allure (at least for the girl on our panel), but these furry creatures also have Web-based avatars that their owners can shower with gifts, all paid for with cyber cash earned by playing online computer games. $12 at Parkway Drugs, 680 N. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-943-2224
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4. Snap Circuits Jr. This collection of easily assembled circuits and other gadgetry allows budding scientists to build a burglar alarm, generate sound effects, and undertake nearly 100 other electronic projects. Telling them it’s educational might only spoil the fun. $32 at Toys et Cetera
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5. Swirl Master Drip metallic and neon paints on paper affixed to a spinning disk to create instant masterpieces, an activity that will entice artists of all ages. A little messy—but from a kid’s point of view, that only added to the fun. $20 at Toys et Cetera
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Out of 50 board games from the Toy  & Game Fair (Nov. 22nd and 23rd at Navy Pier;, we picked six for a “family panel.” Maggie got a kick out of playing WHOOPS ($20,, a Twister wannabe, while Paul, a Jules Verne fan, liked AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS ($29, Mom and Dad liked AMUSEAMAZE ($25,, though it left them wondering where they put the Scrabble board. 

Photography: Michael Boone Photography