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Will the Real Hot Holiday Toy Please Stand Up?

Just how many soft, squishy things can one kid own? Toy makers are hoping the answer is a whole lot of them.

Source: Wowwee

Last week, the retailers took a crack at picking the hot toys for the upcoming Christmas holiday season, and this week, it’s the publications that write and review toys that are taking a crack at it. But ultimately, the only lists that matter are the ones children write with their wishes.

Still, those industry lists offer a good guide for the toys that will be sought after this holiday season. They often feature the items that will be promoted heavily by the toy manufacturers, and they certainly provide a glimpse of the big trends.

Toy Insider released its Hot 20 list on Monday, which lays out the hottest items from its larger toy guide that runs in the Nov. 17 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. Time to Playreleased its favorites at a media event in New York on Tuesday.

Based on those lists, there are a few toys that are already emerging as favorites. They include LeapFrog’s Leap Pad, a tablet computer for kids, WowWee’s Lite Sprites, fairy dolls that have a wand that can transfer color; Spin Master’s Redakai, a card game with eye-catching 3D images; and Hasbro’s Let’s Rock Elmo, an animated Elmo doll that plays several musical instruments.

MGA Lalaloops Doll
MGA Entertainment
MGA Lalaloops Doll

Also receiving accolades were ThinkwayToys’ Lazer Stunt Chaser, a toy car that can chase a ray of laser light; Mattel’s Radica Fijit Friends, an interactive robot; Hasbro’s Poppin’ Park Elefun Busy Ball Popper from Playskool, and Activision video game "Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure."

Several of the toys speak to larger trends in the industry, according to Laurie Schacht, publisher of Toy Insider. For example, the Leap Pad fits into a trend Schacht calls "stealth learning." Kids will think they are playing with their own tablet computer, but the games they play incorporate educational elements, and parents can track their progress.

Schacht also said there will be lots of products that are influenced by the entertainment we use. These range from the Angry Bird app, which has inspired plush toys and a board game, as well as Justin Bieber dolls and microphones that adjust your voice as you sing.

Mickey Mouse 3D Puzzle
Christina Cheddar-Berk | CNBC
Mickey Mouse 3D Puzzle

But every year there are surprise hits. Lalaloopsy was one of those last year, and judging from this year's lists, many expect the magic has not worn off the brand yet. However, depending on which list you look at, a different Lalaloopsy toy is highlighted. Although the brand should do well in general, I’d bet on Time to Play’s pick, the Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Jewel Sparkles.

Why? Girls have been smitten with Lalaloopsy. The brand puts a twist on the concept of a rag doll, and the Silly Hair doll is no exception. Its main draw is its long strands of bendable plastic hair, which offer girls the ability to do something they love: style a doll’s hair.

Monster High, a line of fashion dolls from Mattel, and Lego's Ninjago and Alien Conquest also have had strong sales in recent years, and the experts expect that to continue this holiday season.

But that’s not to say that the lists are identical. There are a few unique additions. For example, Toy Insider picked Scene It's latest edition, a Harry Potter trivia game, and THQ's uDraw Pad, a drawing pad that works with video game consoles.

Soothing Spa
Maya Group
Soothing Spa

Time to Play highlighted Mega Brand's Break Through 3D puzzle and i-Star Entertainment's FyrFlyz. Both are pretty classic toys, and parents are likely to see them as good values — a factor that will continue to be important this holiday season in this challenging economic environment.

The big unkown is will there be a toy that comes out of nowhere and forces moms to camp out in the aisles for new shipments this holiday season.

At the Time to Play event, toymakers were showcasing many products that didn’t make any of the lists, but nonetheless caught my eye.

One example is Maya Group’s Orbeez, which aleady is a top-seller in the limited number of stores where it is sold. For this holiday season, the company has five new toys that incorporate the Orbeez’s balls, as well as Xploderz, a blaster that uses the squishy orbs to recreate paintball play without the pain. (If you've played paintball, you know what I'm talking about.)

Ickee Stikeez
Moose Toys
Ickee Stikeez

The orbs start off as very tiny pellets, but when they are soaked in water they expand into squishy balls that feel wet to the touch. If they stay moist, they will stay expanded, but if they dry out or touch heat, they will shrink or crack.

Maya has designed a jewelry maker, a perfume blender, a foot spa and a mood lamp, all of which use the brightly colored balls. And there are several different versions of the Xploderz blasters as well.

Orbeez and Xploderz are not the only squishy playthings. There are a number of collectibles that can be squeezed and scrunched. Most of these are in the same vein as another one of last year's surprise hits, Squinkies.

Toys ‘R Us already touted the Trash Pack, little squishy, and slightly slimy "Trashies" that are sold in miniature trash cans. The characters are based on the items you might find in the garbage, and the hope is that boys will want to collect them. A company spokeswoman said the garbage truck playset and metal storage cans in the product line are already strong sellers.

Garbage Truck Display
Christina Cheddar-Berk | CNBC
Garbage Truck Display

Also competing in the race is Ickee Stickeez, which is from Zing. Like Squinkies, these miniature characters are sold in vending-machine-type balls, but their appeal comes from a little suction cup on the bottom. This means you can stick them around your computer monitor, inside a locker, or together to create jewelry, tops, and other configurations.

It also means — and this will likely be the big draw — they make a suction sound when you put them down and pick them up. It's sort of like bubble wrap on steroids.

Collecting is a big trend, and has been for several years. There is an attraction to the trend in a tough economy: Parents can buy as many or as few as their budget will allow.

"Value is still key," said John Frascotti, Hasbro's chief marketing officer. "If Mom has a fixed budget, she's going to want to know that her child is going to play with it for a long time."

That usually means Mom will turn to trusted brands she knows, or yes, maybe, to some of these hot toy lists.

Time to Play Holiday 2011 Most Wanted Toys List

Angry Birds Knock on Wood Game (Mattel)
Beyblade: Metal Fusion (Hasbro)
Big Action Construction Site (Fisher-Price)
DaGeDar (Cepia)
FyrFlyz (i-Star Entertainment)
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks (Mattel)
InnoTab (VTech)
Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Jewel Sparkles (MGA Entertainment)
Lazer Stunt Chaser Dragon Fire (Thinkway Toys)
LeapPad Explorer (LeapFrog)
LEGO Alien Conquest (LEGO)
LEGO Ninjago (LEGO)
Lite Sprites (WowWee)
The Logo Board Game (Spin Master)
Monster High Dead Tired (Mattel)
Nerf Vortex (Hasbro)
Redakai (Spin Master)
Spy Net Stealth Video Glasses (Jakks Pacific)
3D Break Through Puzzle – Classic Mickey Mouse (Mega Brands)

Toy Insider List

0-2 YEARS

Elefun Busy Ball Popper (Playskool)
Let’s Rock Elmo (Hasbro)
Little People Zoo Talkers Animal Sounds Zoo (Fisher-Price)
Pocoyo Swiggletraks (Bandai)

3-5 Years

Chuggington Interactive Railway (Learning Curve)
Lazer Stunt Chaser (Thinkway Toys)
Mini Lalaloopsy Treehouse (MGA Entertainment)
LeapPad (LeapFrog)
Lite Sprites (WowWee)
PlasmaBike (PlaSmart)

6-8 Years

Angry Birds Plush (Commonwealth Toy & Novelty Co.)
Justin Bieber Rockin’ Tour Bus and Concert Stage (The Bridge Direct)
Nerf Vortex Proton Blaster (Hasbro)
Radica Fijit Friends (Mattel)
Redakai Championship Tin (Spin Master)
Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure (Activision)

9+ Years

Alien Conquest: Alien Mothership (Lego Systems)
Paper Jamz Pro Series Microphone (WowWee)
Scene It? Harry Potter: The Complete Cinematic Journey (Screenlife)
uDraw Game Tablet (THQ)

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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