Alas, even the folks in the business of making those annual "best toy" lists overlook or can't seem to locate gifts that foster goodness, cooperation, and a sense of being inspired by the divine or warmed by the human spirit -- things the holidays are all about. Instead, they recommend non-violent toys (okay, that's a start), clever toys, or amusements and games that will help kids make impressive academic gains. These things are all well and good. But something's missing: a moral core and. well, is it too much to ask for a sense of non-automated awe or wonder?

We went shopping for gifts with a special something -- toys that promote good values, encourage creativity, or provide inspiration beyond instant gratification -- without sacrificing fun. Check out our editor's picks for 2002.

For Younger Kids (Ages 2-6)

Noah's Ark
Every three-year-old should have an ark, a durable wooden one, if possible, with pairs of animals and Noah's family on board. The flood story appears in many of the world's religious traditions, and the story of Noah's journey from peril to safety is one that touches young children deeply. We've found several arks, ranging in price from affordable to heirloom quality. Wooden arks can be expensive presents, but we've known kids who've continued playing with them until they're six. This lovely, small ark has a partially removable roof, 12 pairs of animals, Noah, and wife. $30 at

FAO Schwarz stocks this brightly painted, three-tiered, 20-inch long wooden ark. Item 16230156. $85

The ultimate heirloom ark is expertly crafted of European hardwood and designed for years of hard play. It includes larger animal pairs and a four-inch-high Noah and wife. The ark can stay on in your living room as folk art long after your children have put the animals away. $395 at Additional biblical characters and animal pairs are available and individually priced.

Cooperative Board Games
These games created by a Canadian company called Family Pastimes can really enhance your child's rainy day play. And you can start playing them early since kids as young as three or four can get engaged. Nobody - and everybody - wins. Players brainstorm on how to best collaborate to obtain each game's objective: saving the princess, getting a cute dog named Harley home. We've personally had great success playing "Harley," "Harvest Time," "Sleeping Grump," "Round-Up," and "Princess" with the young kids we've known. Older childrens' games involve more strategy and are sure to enthrall. $18-$30

Note: should you go to the site and find no retailer in your immediate area (as often happens, since this is not a large company with a big distribution network) the games can be ordered direct.

Rescue Heroes Action Figures
As fans of their TV show already know, these "cool guys who are good guys" are nonviolent, courageous, and environmentally aware. Their action teams include girl and boy medics, firefighters, police officers, lifeguards -- even a rescue dolphin. And their adventures involve saving (rather than smashing) irresponsible kids, poachers, and other unsavory types before giving them a little lesson about being good.

Inspirational Bears
Our favorite item from could be given to a youngster of any faith. Choose from B.B. Angel, Gracie or Faith-all friendly, stuffed teddies with an astonishing ability to inspire, even pray! When squeezed, B.B. Angel recites, "Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here." in a lovely, clear child's voice. But Gracie and Faith can be programmed to say or sing anything you wish! Additionally, pre-recorded voice boxes come ready to recite your choice of six famous prayers and creeds. $25-$49

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