Archive for the ‘The Magic Dog Recommends’ Category


Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet. Edited by Terrie Dopp Aamodt , Gary Land, and Ronald L. Numbers. Buy here

I just did something I would never have imagined myself doing: I just finished reading a book about a woman I spent a good part of my life disliking intensely: Ellen White. Before I go on, let me give you the link information. The book is Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, and it’s edited by Terrie Dopp Aamodt, Gary Land, and Ronald L. Numbers. Actually, Dr. Aamodt is the reason I read the book in the first place. I had the privilege of sitting in her American literature classes while I was in college, and working for her in the Writing Center at Walla Walla College (now University). In those years I came to respect her scholarship a great deal. Her name on the cover, and my respect for her academic integrity, prompted me to do something I would never have done otherwise: I bought a book about Ellen White.

For those of you familiar with Seventh-day Adventism Mrs. White needs no further introduction. For others a brief explanation is in order. In the early to mid-1800’s America experienced a surge of religious fervor. During that period a number of spiritual movements gave rise to new, uniquely American religions: Christian Scientism, Adventism, and Mormonism all arose out of that spiritual awakening. Ellen White, arguably the most powerful force in the formation of Seventh-day Adventism, came from a Methodist background by way of Millerism, a splinter Methodist movement that held that Bible prophecy predicted Jesus’ return around 1844. As the time grew nearer the Millerites got a great deal more specific than that. Eventually they pinned the date down to October 22, 1844. Obviously, something went grievously wrong, and instead of departing in glory the Millerites were left with what came to be known as the Great Disappointment–surely an understatement, if ever there was one. (By the way, several of these links will take you to Wikipedia; I’m trying to stay away from apologists or critics here. American Prophet covers the subject in far more detail, and it’s fully sourced and endnoted, if you’d like to explore further. Or if you’d like to read a pretty sacrilegious account with no citations at all you can go here.)

In the wake of the Great Disappointment the Millerites began searching for some explanation. Eventually disappointed Millerite Hiram Edson got a vision in which a heavenly being told him, “The Sanctuary is in heaven.” Ellen White confirmed this. The nice thing about this interpretation was that it meant all that time doing calculations and preaching about the importance of October 22, 1844 hadn’t been wasted. Indeed, for a time the Advent believers preached that only those who had accepted their message by October 22 would be saved–that on that day Jesus walked from one room in the heavenly temple into another room, and closed the door behind him. The work remaining, they believed, was to keep each other strong in the faith, not win new converts. As time passed and there was no Jesus the “closed door” doctrine was abandoned (more about this later).

It was during this period–just before 1844 and then shortly after–that Ellen White rose to prominence based on her visions, which spanned topics as diverse as ancient history, scriptural interpretation, doctrine, land purchases, diet, education, health, how the world would end, and masturbation. The woman wrote. A lot. She wrote books (more about that also later). More to the point, she wrote “testimonies,” letters directed to churches, organizations, and private church members, recounting what she said God had shown her in vision (more about this later, too). The testimonies often dealt with matters that the recipients would have preferred remain private–something that in fact many people cited as proof of their holy origins (I would think first of gossip, but that’s just me). Enough of her “testimonies” were “right on the money” to convince the fledgling Adventist church that her visions were “of God,” (and more of this later, too.) The letters were gathered, edited, and published as a collection of books which were widely read in Adventist homes, and even more frequently quoted by the devout in my own childhood–often inaccurately and/or out of context–to support personal opinions. Not to put too fine a point on it here, I came to regard Ellen White as a bully, and her writings as a club. I was not alone.

Growing up in the Adventist church, I had heard about Ellen White’s more educated detractors, generally as examples of “the devil working hard in these last days.” I never heard any official church response that went beyond “of course she was a prophet, so of course her visions came to her from God, just like she said.” When I left the Adventist church I left the controversy behind me; I was just so darned grateful to not have Ellen White weighing in on my every action that did my best to forget. And then, because the Internet is a remarkable and sometimes wonderful place, I stumbled across the writings of some Ellen White’s detractors. What I read didn’t sound so much like “the devil working hard” as it did like legitimate concerns about scholarship, ethics, and personal and professional integrity. But then again, these were her “detractors,” right? I read. I said, “Hm.” But hey, I wasn’t an Adventist anymore; the controversy no longer had any real immediacy for me. I had already decided that the Ellen White I knew best wasn’t someone I cared to continue knowing. Suffice it to say, I didn’t buy this book out of any warm and fuzzy feelings for Ellen White or her books; I bought it because Dr Aamodt contributed considerable time and effort to it, and if anybody could put Ellen White into some sort of realistic perspective it would be she.

I found out about the book because I happened to read an interview in Spectrum’s blog, and then the comments, which reminded me of the three bears: Some found the book too hard; some found it too soft; others found it just right. So when I started reading I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t take long for me to figure out one of the sources of controversy: the book is the combined work of a number of scholars and, while all document and source their work extensively, each has a unique perspective. Some of the writers seem to support White as a prophet; others focus on other aspects of her life: her literary work, her speeches, her health reform, her educational activism, and her promotion of the temperance movement, and simultaneous rejection of women’s suffrage. Yet others deal with the controversies around her use of undocumented sources in producing materials she came in visions from God.

I found myself fascinated by the complexity of a woman I had seen from one point of view–my own. As several of the scholars acknowledge, studying Mrs. White is  studying paradox. Any book that attempts to deal with Mrs. White as a person, a prophet and visionary and woman rooted in and shaped by her times is going to be something of a Rorschach test.

Which is sad, because the scholarship that has gone into this book is impressive, and the very thing that a number of Spectrum’s responders found most annoying–that the authors didn’t take a hard enough line on the question of Mrs. White’s divine inspiration–is the thing I found most worthy of respect–ultimately, I finished the book precisely where I wanted to be–far more informed about a subject about which I should have known much, and really knew very little, and able to form my own opinions.

And what opinions did I form? None, really–but I’m asking better questions. Here are some of them:

1. Where did Mrs. White’s ideas come from? Nearly from the beginning critics have noted that Mrs. White’s “visions” seemed derivative. Certainly her health reform message owes much to other reformers of her day. The problem reaches epic proportions in her later books, particularly the “Conflict of the Ages” series, which scholars–including scholars from the White Estate–have demonstrated is largely plagiarized from other writers.

Attempts to defend the books have tended to fall back on the “people didn’t look at plagiarism then like they look at plagiarism now” argument, but that argument fails when one realizes that the charges were brought while Ellen White was still fully capable of explaining her source use–but she chose not to respond. Later editions of one of the books most heavily criticized was revised to include some source documentation, and Mrs. White included a note indicating she had used other sources as well, but since God, and not the writer she was citing, was the authority, she had seen no reason to credit the previous scholar’s work, ideas, or words.

I find this enormously troubling. Because Adventism was so heavily shaped by Ellen White’s writings, the question of where she derived those ideas is central to her authenticity. Her ideas and the books that many Adventists regard as next thing to canonical were clearly heavily shaped by other writers–even the portions that she claimed to have seen in vision. This poses an important question about how inspired her works may or may not be. If she had ever claimed that God inspired her to copy others’ work, there might be a basis for claiming an alternative, though suspect, form of inspiration. But she didn’t. She claimed the messages and images came to her in visions, and that she had deliberately not read others’ work precisely so she could not be said to have been influenced by anyone other than God himself. The scholarship shows that unless her visions featured God reading her others’ books slowly enough for her to get everything down that simply isn’t the case. If I were still an Adventist, the question I would be asking is, “So what do we do with this?”

2. How heavily were Mrs. White’s visions and testimonies influenced by self-interest? A number of her “testimonies” had to do with people not giving enough to support “God’s work”–the spreading of the Advent message. Other testimonies decried the money donated going to people she felt were unworthy. It all sounds very high-minded until one realizes that in writing those testimonies she was basically using her position as God’s messenger to wring funds out of people who might very well be less well-off than she was. The same thing applies to other visions, which seem to dovetail rather nicely with the White’s business aspirations. Were those testimonies from God, or were they prompted by something more personal?

While it would be going too far to say that she never sacrificed for her cause, it is also true that she lived much of her life in comfortably affluent circumstances: She had an estate in Australia, another in California, and a summer home in Colorado. She earned enough from the sale of her books–which God conveniently instructed her to tell people to buy by the gross to spread the word–to not only keep herself comfortably but to be able to donate generously to causes. She could afford servants–and advocated that women do as she did: hire servants to care for their homes and children so they could go on the road for God. She could afford to take “water cures.” Sacrifices there might have been, but there were also financial rewards–many of them enhanced by the very best celebrity endorser of them all–God Himself, through the voice of his humble servant Ellen White.

Likewise her denigration of others’ claims of prophetic gifts. American Prophet paints a picture of Adventism’s early roots in the “shouting Methodist” tradition–a tradition that included a number of people prophesying, speaking in tongues, falling into trance states, and so forth. Ellen Harmon was by no means the only person claiming visions–and being regarded as divinely inspired. More that one writer notes that her husband, James White, played a key role in her rise to prominence–and that during a time period when he refused to publish her visions and testimonies in the fledgling Adventist periodical he edited her public career languished, and her visions virtually ceased. When he was replaced as editor by someone who began publishing her words again the visions came back. James learned his lesson, and again promoted her as God’s special messenger. In the beginning a number of people experienced visions and contributed to the formation of Adventism. Before many years passed, though, all the prophetic voices other than Ellen White’s had either ceased–or been condemned as “false prophets” by God, via Ellen White.

When she defamed others who claimed to have Word direct from the Mercy Seat, was she doing God’s will, or shoring up her position as Adventism’s sole prophet? I don’t know, but I am troubled by her willingness to declare others whose vision of godliness didn’t dovetail with hers false prophets, even as she herself was demanding that her visions and utterances about everything under the sun be accepted as God’s words. We are left with the Rorschach test–either she was exactly what she said she was or she was a consummate career woman who parlayed a tenuous position into enormous success.

3. About those “signs” that proved her visions were really visions: People claimed that she was weak and sickly, and certainly she spoke often about how sickly she was, and how difficult the charge she had been given, but after reading American Prophet I wonder. She was healthy enough to travel the world. She was healthy enough to preach regularly. How sick was she, really?  Certainly she self-reported a laundry list of illnesses, but her constant activity tells another story. Maybe she really was sick, and God constantly intervened, shoring her up so she could preach, travel, and write–or maybe she was stronger than she thought.

4. How different was she really from the “false prophets,” mesmerists, and hypnotists she so decried? Maybe those who found similarities between her visionary trance state and mesmeric and hypnotic trance states were onto something. Certainly holding an 18-pound book at arm’s length for an extended period of time is amazing–but people are capable of amazing feats, given the right motivation and circumstances. Perhaps the trance state allowed a woman who saw herself as weak and sickly the opportunity to be something more. Certainly, she was part of an era where people were primed and ready to see signs and wonders. Again, we find the Rorschach test. Those who believe will see God’s hand; others will see a story  it is impossible to prove, perpetuated by those with a vested interest in its veracity.

5. What about the prophetic visions that didn’t pan out? And with the visions God didn’t give her?  (One would think that somewhere He would have thought to whisper, “Take the cornflakes patent.”) She explained them away by saying the God’s people had failed–that they had not worked hard enough, been devout enough, sacrificed enough for the furtherance of his work (and incidentally the support of the Whites). But again, we’re faced with a central issue–if this is God speaking through his servant Ellen White, and if he “knows the end from the beginning,” as Ellen White maintains time after time, why would he give her information he knew to be false?

6. What do we do with the evolution in her visions? Certainly we would expect her views to change and evolve as a person, but she was claiming to be God’s spokeswoman. Things she was “shown” early in her life (I’m thinking particularly of the “closed door” doctrine, which held that no one who had not accepted the Advent message by 1844 could be saved) she disavowed later, when motivating the faithful to continue supporting “the work” dictated that there be some point to continuing that work. Obviously, if salvation was impossible for everyone who had not seen the light by 1844, there was no point in continuing proselytizing. Nor would there be any point to further church growth. Adventism might have continued as a health and education reform movement, but as a religion it would be defunct.

So what do the Rorschach inkblots say about me? I find myself going back to two issues that for me, discredit her. The first is that she lied about how she wrote her books. This is about more than just unauthorized borrowing. This is about her own descriptions of her process. She claimed that she had gotten her information in vision, straight from God, and that she had subsequently “found” the same information in others’ books, and appropriated it for her own. This might have explained a few isolated instances of plagiarism, but when estimates of appropriated material run from 30 to more than 70 percent of some of her books it simply no longer is credible. The reality is that Ellen White hired researchers and editors to both mine her previous writings and the writings of others, and then repurposed  or simply regurgitated the work for her current book. While I believe inspiration can take many forms, and one can indeed be inspired by something one reads, the central fact remains that when Mrs. White denied that she had been inspired by reading others’ work (or having others seek it out and then present it to her) and instead claimed that everything came to her directly in a vision from God she lied about her manner of inspiration. For me, that fact casts doubt on her other writing, particularly her testimonies, where so very often what God ‘showed’ her proved spiritually, professionally and financially advantageous to her personally.

And that, of course, begs the larger question: If Ellen White was less prophet than savvy enterpreneur, what happens to the religion that was so profoundly shaped by her words? Does it simply ignore its prophet’s feet of clay, or does it examine itself, excavate its own “present truth,” and find a way of being a positive influence a troubling world by moving beyond one of its central, if increasingly questioned, foundations?

And the final question: What if it wasn’t a case of either/or, but both? What if Ellen White did receive information in visions (leaving aside the question of where they may have come from) at some points–but then, when visions failed her, what if she resorted to other, less savory, methods? Would such a person be worthy of the veneration she still, in many cases, receives? Is it possible to determine what material was inspired by God, and what was inspired by perceived financial need, by the drive for power, by the need to protect one’s income, by the need to continue to be relevant? I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Placing Ellen White in her historical context reveals a fascinating woman who truly achieved remarkable things. But I am not sure the picture I saw revealed a convincing prophet.

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  • Red Tash–buy her books!

    Hi, Zack.

    I’ve heard about you.  Yeah, you.  The teenaged boy with the wisecracks, right?

    Your friend’s mom, Sherry, told me about you.  You with the snarky comments & the funny retorts.  Sherry said you’re a really great kid.  But why did she mention it, you ask?  She said you noticed one of my books on her Kindle.  She said you thought it was a horror novel.

    Well, kudos to you, Zack.  First of all, for being interested in books.  I’m not being a smart aleck at all, either.  That’s a lifelong habit that’ll only continue to serve you.  Even if you go through periods of being more interested in video games or girls or beer, eventually you always come back to books.  I mean, when was the last time you looked up cheat codes on twitter?  How to meet girls on Pinterest?  Maybe you’re too young to be researching beer, but someday, kid, you might want to learn how to brew your own.  Oh, the places that Kindle can take you.

    But enough about you, let’s talk about me.  😉  Let’s talk about the Wizard.  Remember him?  This guy?

    Meet the wizard–he’s free! Click here to download.

    Kinda scary?  Good.  He’s not a bad guy, this wizard, but he’s sure wrangled a few.  He’s a bit aloof, an observer of men, more than a participant of our culture.

    Who is he?  What does he want?

    Well, in the first Wizard Tale, The Wizard Takes a Holiday, he just wants to kick back and watch a movie.  There’s a whole horror film fest going on, and he wants to take it in.  Instead, he ends up herding magical toddlers and dealing with misplaced trolls.  Such is life in rural Indiana, my friend.  Such is life.

    Click here for more of the Wizard.

    The second wizard tale is quite a bit longer, but it’s still a short story, not a full-fledged novel, and definitely not even a novella.  It’s called “The Wizard Takes a Fitness Class.”  Scary, huh?  What, are you telling me you enjoy gym class?  What kind of sicko are you?  Of course the story’s scary, I mean, it’s got zombies in it.  Demons, even.

    Okay, okay, so it’s really not that scary of a story.  More of an ironic zombie story.  Did you know those existed?  No?  Me, neither.  Not until this very moment, but I think it’s a fair label.

    And it’s only fair that there’s a good balance between humor and horror in every tall tale, isn’t there?  I mean, there’s the thrill of fear, and the comfort of a good laugh.  Too much of one or the other, and story just won’t fly.  Pure terror gets boring without anything to bump off of, doesn’t it?  And we’ve all seen a comedy jump the shark as the bits attempt to go more and more over the top.  By the end of the show, it’s not funny anymore, just absurd—maybe so absurd it is funny, but unless you’re aiming for absurdism, you should probably always keep that balance in mind.

    Now don’t let me tell you what to like, Zack.  If you want to like the absurdist, then go for it.  I like it a bit, myself. There’s nothing like a zany madcap romp.  I love a story with heart, though.  A nice, big, squishy, bleeding, torn-apart-and-staining-the-carpets-as-it’s-tossed-by-the-mouths-of-dogs heart.


    Sorry, Zack, I couldn’t help myself.

    I hope you enjoyed “The Wizard Takes a Holiday.”  It’s only 1500 words, so in the time it took me to write this post, I could have written a whole ‘nother Wizard Tale.  A short one, anyway.  “The Wizard Takes a Holiday” is a freebie, and the sequel is only $.99 on Amazon, or free via Smashwords with a coupon code through the end of July.

    Meet Roller Deb–

    And if you liked those, let’s talk about a little gal named Deb who’s about your age.  She skates away from home and joins a fairy/troll roller derby league.  Sure, it might sound like a “chick book” to a fella like you, but plenty of guys have liked it.

    (If I can wrench the keyboard out of Red’s grubby little mitts for one minute, Zack, I’ll give you a link where you can read more about Roller Deb here.)

    Axel Howerton calls it a “tale of rockin’, rollin’ and full metal fantasy! I love this damn book.” Scott of Indie Book Blogger gives it five stars, and reader John Hundley also gives it five stars, noting that “this is an action book.”

    But enough about that, Zack.  I’ll let you get back to your reading.  Have a great summer, man!  I hope to hear from you.

    Here are some links, if you’re interested:

    Amazon profile
    Barnes & Noble
    Other platforms/paperbacks


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Here's the starter game pack--game, pedestal, and three action figures. The starter pack is a bit of an investment (usually between $50 and $60), but once you've got it your young player is good to go. And additional figures, if you choose to buy them, come in a range of prices and purchase options.

Yesterday I bought a Skylanders game (available for all major gaming systems). So what’s the big deal? It’s the second time I’ve done this–and our game still works. I bought the game for my son’s after-school program, which includes children who pretty much span the spectrum in age and game-play ability. And Spyro Sklanders is a game uniquely suited to accommodate players like that.

Here's a screen capture from the game--lovely colors, engaging art, nothing too scary here.

First, a quick overview. Spyro the Dragon has been around for a long time in gaming terms–I think we bought our first Spyro game back when The Boy was about five. Spyro is a charming little dragon who lollops through a series of adventures and challenges all set in enchanting, magical landscapes. It’s the sort of game that’s fun to watch, as well as fun to play. Skylanders continues this tradition. The game is designed for “free play,” which means that it can be played in a number of ways. Players can work their way through Spyro’s adventure, meeting a series of challenges and progressing along a story line. But that’s just the beginning. Players can choose to hunt for treasure, or simply explore (this is code for run around and look at stuff). But what’s nice is that, with a little cooperation, the multiple players can do those things while they’re playing together. In the same game. In real terms, what this means is that Patrick (The Boy, fifteen, and games master) can play with Olivia (three, and not yet a games master)–and they can both have a good time.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What really sets Skylanders apart from other games is the way characters are selected. The game itself comes with three small action figures and a pedestal, which links to the gaming system. Players select the character they will play as by standing the action figure on the pedestal. Electronics in the figure’s base link with the game, and presto, the character comes alive onscreen. But this is just the beginning.

... and another setting...

The character can be changed at any time during game play except for when cut scenes are actually playing. In fact, to win the game characters must be changed, because the various levels each are designed to suit a particular type of character’s strengths. For example, last time I started out with a “crystal” character, switched to a “water” character, then a “plants” character, and so on. It sounds complicated, but the characters have been designed to make identifying their type simple. Water characters, for instance, all come in shades of blue, and feature splashes of water. Crystal characters all include a prism. Fire characters all include flames. Sorting the various types is simple, even for Olivia, who cannot read.

Because players are constantly switching characters, the old bugbear of multi-player games–who gets to play as whom–is non-existent. Everybody can have a turn playing as every character–and in the same game. This makes Skylanders a great choice for families and settings that include players who range in ages and abilities.

But what I really like about this game is its unspoken message. That message? That successful game play results from cooperation among a number of characters. Because the various action figures each have a unique set of skills, and because the game levels each require different skills for completion, no one character gets to be the hero all the time. Even the youngest players learn that everyone contributes to a group’s success.

Because I always overthink these things, I see an important metaphor there not only for children, but for adults. A game that fosters the idea that everybody’s talents are necessary for success is a good thing, the way I see it.

One last note: Because characters are chosen by setting a specially-designed figure on a pedestal in the real world, the game comes with three “starter” figures. However, there are many, many others available in a wide range of prices. This makes it nice for parents and grandparents, who can augment the set without breaking the budget. Fgures are designed to work with all major play systems (the game is not–you’ll need to buy the game for your own system).

One final note: Because the action figures are an integral part of the game it’s important to not lose them. We use a medium-size box, which holds our action figure collection, the pedestal, and the game. Skylanders is available in store everywhere, and online.

Here’s a trailer.

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Yes, we at the Magic Dog House know that it’s too early to start celebrating Christmas. I mean, we’ve still got skulls and femurs in the flowerbeds, and the teddy bears are still “hanged by the neck until dead,” and horrifying the neighborhood parents. The neighborhood children love us, but I digress.

Thing is, Christmas is coming, and many of us are looking around for ways of celebrating that won’t break the bank. Well, look no further. From now until Christmas, we’re going to be profiling an assortment of gifts that your kid and your wallet will both love. In order to keep from disappointing your kid too badly we’ll try to assign age ranges where appropriate.

Before we get too specific, though (that will come later) here’s a quick overview of ideas.

Video Games. Yes, they can be very, very expensive, if you buy them new. If, however, you have a young one just starting out Amazon and the used game stores are full of wonderful, engaging games that kids have been loving since the days of Atari. And here’s the kicker–many of the modern game systems like the Wii will play the old GameCube games. And GameCube games can often be had for a song. So you’ve got a kid. You’ve got a Wii. I’ve chosen these based on a fairly stringent standard. First, they need to be games that small children can play without succumbing to nightmares.Every child is different, but these games generally have funny, engaging, and non-threatening  bad guys. Second, I’m not a big fan of parking small children in front of video games solo. These are games that, in most cases, you can play with your child, and children of very different skill levels can still play and enjoy. Most are games that allow for either focused play, which will allow you to win the game, or aimless wandering, ideal when you’ve got a toddler in the house who wants a turn but doesn’t have the skills to actually do much.

The Legend of Zelda. You can’t go wrong with Zelda. A great starter game is the Ocarina of Time. It’s been re-mastered and re-issued a couple of times, so it’s possible to get some of the old GameCube versions for virtually nothing, but watch out–some of those old games are Collector’s Editions, and priced accordingly. Twilight Princess is another great game, and I just found it on Amazon for $10.

What makes Zelda games so great for new players? They allow for endless exploration. We got our first GameCube when The Boy was about six. Ocarina of Time came with the starter pack. It took him years to play his way through the game, because a) we didn’t know about walkthroughs, and b) you can get on Epona the horse and ride and ride and ride. Forever.

Another thing that makes the games great is that you can go onto the Zelda site online and get hints for how to solve some of the puzzles. You can, of course, also buy a used guide. They often look pretty ratty, but if your kid isn’t critical, why should you be? You might want to disinfect the thing, but your kid will be reading before you know it.

If you choose to download your walkthroughs start at http://www.gamefaqs.com. They provide a lot of good walkthroughs. Some of my fondest memories are of The Boy and I scavenging the internet for walkthroughs, then curling  up on his bed, him with the game controller, me with the instructions, and working our way through the game together.

So, Zelda games are great. Here are some other names to look for. These games are suitable for small children–the characters are fun and engaging, and the enemies aren’t scary.

Ah, Tak–where else will you find a game where one of the main characters farts?

Tak 1, 2, and 3–these games are probably some of your best game deals online today. The graphics are hilarious, the characters likewise. All of the games have at least some options that allow for multiple players. The dialog is amusing for kids and adults alike. Challenges are challenging, but not so very challenging that young children can’t enjoy them. And these games can be yours for under $5 each. I found some for sale for 50 cents. Yes. Two bits. You just can’t go wrong at that rate.

Donkey Konga–This is a wonderful game for anybody. Here’s the deal. The game comes with a set of bongo drums (make sure the game you order has the drums with it), and you beat on the bongo drums in time to the music. If you manage to keep time, you get points and unlock more songs. If you don’t, well you still get to make a lot of noise, so there’s really no downside. This is a game even a two-year-old can play. And you can get the game and the bongos for under $15.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 1, 2, and 3. The first two games are the best, but the third’s all right. Again, these are adventure games that allow little ones to wander aimlessly forever, pick up jewels, and feel like they’re accomplishing something. If you actually want to advance through the game, of course, there’s more to it than wandering aimlessly, so this is a game that grows with the kids. The basic plot is that Ty must outwit his archenemy Boss Cass using nothing but a pretty spiffy collection of boomerangs.  Ty is fun. He talks with a thick Aussie drawl. And he can be yours for between $1 and $5.

Crash Tag Team Racing. Crash Bandicoot has a lot of games. The Boy loved him, but as far as I was concerned he failed to grip, EXCEPT for tag team racing. You build your car. You drive off stuff. You get points for doing flips, rolls, and spins. And you can do it for under $5.

Mario. It’s hard to go wrong with Mario games, but if you’re shopping for small children the best would probably be Super Mario Sunshine, another game that provides entertainment for children who play at a wide range of levels. It can be had for under $15.

Super Smash Brothers Melee. Most of the games on this list are rated E, for Everyone. Super Smash Brothers is, for some obscure reason, rated T, for Teens. I tend to take ratings seriously, but this is one you can safely disregard. Kids of all ages love Super Smash Brothers. Again, it’s a game that all skill levels and ages can play (up to four kids at a time), and the game can be set up to handicap the more skillful players to give the less skillful players a chance.

The folks who put this game out have done it in three versions: Super Smash Brothers (that’s the first one) Super Smash Brothers Melee (that’s the GameCube version) and Super Smash Brothers Brawl (that’s the actual Wii version). Though we got Brawl for the Wii, we generally find ourselves going back and playing our old Melee version. For one thing, some of the character attributes are better. Take Princess Peach, for instance. In Melee her special power is this very cool hip slam. I usually play as Peach, and so the hip slam is important to me. In Brawl I believe it’s either gone or modified into some lame thing with hearts. Brawl has a fun feature where you can build your own levels, but play on those levels is fairly limited. SSB Melee is a huge game, lots of levels, lots of characters, lots of options for each character. We’ve had this game for going on ten years now, and The Boy and his friends STILL pull it out and play it. You can get it for under $15.

Enough–we’ll do this again. The nice thing about these games is that they’re all old enough that your young player will feel like he’s discovering something new–and you’ll be able to look like Santa.

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