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Child's Play Becoming a Serious Business

May 07, 1987|SUSAN PERRY | Perry is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Parents in the '80s won't buy their children just any old toy.

"Parents are trying to choose educational games and toys where they can play and work with them," said Chris Biggs, manager of Mr. G's for Kids in Canoga Park.

Jody Fickes, president of the recently formed Southern California Children's Booksellers Assn., agrees. "There's a very strong parenting movement out there right now," said Fickes, a former librarian, who owns a children's bookstore in Ventura called Adventures for Kids. "It's very careful parenting, 'careful' in every sense of the world."

Among parents, say retailers, there is increased concern about the quality of children's products. "Ten years ago the toy-buying public was heavily influenced by TV, but that's happening less and less," said Richard Peters, co-owner of Creative Play Resources in Northridge.

"Parents are much more aware than before, and with that has come the willingness to buy some of the better toys. The manufacturers and publishers respond to that," he said.

The children's book field has also changed. "The books are much more sophisticated today, and there's a tremendous emphasis on good-quality illustrations and color," said Bea Rosen, co-owner of KidLit, a home-based bookselling business in Northridge.

Former teacher Madeline Nella said Valley shops were more open to accepting her new audiocassette, "Milk Shake Moustaches and Bubbly Baths," sung by J.P. Nightingale, than stores anywhere else in the Los Angeles area.

"Judging from the response I got from owners," said Nella, "the San Fernando Valley is the prime market for educational materials for young children. Parents here want to give their kids the best of everything."

Listed below is a sampling of independent Valley book and toy stores. Most offer free gift-wrapping and will send items by mail for the cost of shipping. Several publish newsletters and offer story hours or special workshops for children and parents.

Power of Play, 13608 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 906-2123, and 5871 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills, (818) 991-1474. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Both these stores specialize in toys geared to developmental needs of children from infancy to age 14, with an emphasis on creativity. Among the items, most of which are imported, are games, puzzles, books, records, videos, puppets, arts and crafts, Brio trains, construction toys, science kits and dinosaurs.

Children may take books off the shelves and read them in the book room. Any toy in the store can be tried out, and tables are set up with demonstration puzzles and toys. A newsletter provides details about children's classes, workshops for parents, and "Mommy and Me" classes. Starting May 2, separate 8-week beginning guitar classes for parents and children will be offered Saturdays at $15 per class.

Mr. G's for Kids, Topanga Plaza, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Suite 44, Canoga Park, (818) 704-4845. Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This store specializes in educational toys and books for infants through young teen-agers. Among the many items carried are science kits, workbooks, flash cards, games, and preschool puzzles. The trained staff helps evaluate children's needs.

Creative Play Resources, 8921 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 886-4150. Open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In business 16 years, the owners of this toy store choose items to sell which have lasting play value as well as an educational purpose. Very few TV toys are carried. For sale are books, records and cassettes, games, dolls, stuffed animals, puzzles and many items that are imported or made by smaller American companies. The age range is birth to age 8. A free mail-order catalogue is available.

The Joy of Learning, Educational Materials for Children, 18722 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 343-7116. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This 1-year-old shop sells educational toys, books, games, videos, and software, as well as materials for arts and crafts, science and music. The age range is infants through teen-agers. Phone orders are accepted. A store newsletter carries details about special workshops.

Reading Circles for preschoolers are held Thursdays at 10:30 a.m., and sessions for older listeners are held first and third Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. Reservations are not necessary.

Pages, Books for Children and Young Adults, 18399 Ventura Blvd., (Tarzana Square), Tarzana, (818) 34-BOOKS. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pages is a full-service children's bookstore offering a wide selection of books for infants through teen-agers, plus books for parents. The staff of former teachers and librarians will work with customers to match the book to the reader. A personal shopper is available for phone orders. A quarterly newsletter supplies details about upcoming author appearances and special events.

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