READERS' PICK: The reason American children should attend school, said the 19th-century educator Horace Mann, is so that they can be taught how to become conscientious, uncomplaining industrial citizens. The reason American children should get their playthings from Toys 'R' Us, to continue in Mann's vein, is so that they can learn how to become good mass consumers. Groaning aisles stacked high with branded, cross-promoted, synergistic geegaws, including every bit of Star Wars and Disney paraphernalia under the sun. If your kid has seen it on TV, you'll find it here.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's, 4811 E. Grant Road. Back in the quaint ol' days, maybe the 1970s, when toy stores didn't resemble Big Boxes or have names with capital letters instead of actual verbs, a young couple named Pam and Cary opened a tiny shop in midtown Broadway Village to deal in affordable, high-quality reconditioned toys, and some select new toys. They named it after a Beatrix Potter character, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, who launders. Years went by and the used toys fell by the wayside; but the "select" quality continued. You'd sometimes go in and find Pam and Cary's two little girls playing with exquisite, imported dolls, toys, stuffed animals, books. Little girls and businesses -- unlike magic dragons -- do grow up, though, and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's moved east to a bigger shop in Crossroads Plaza. The not-so-new location is still a treat years later, with imaginative, colorful and even glitzy playthings, clothes, books and music. You can still buy Beatrix Potter stuffed animals there -- along with balls that screech like cats in the throes of death. Your kid will love it.