Santa’s elves steering clear of the Jarts

Christmas is fast approaching, which means that somewhere in the North Pole, Santa and his elves are loading his great red sleigh. One toy you will not see amidst the Barbie dolls, Skylanders, and boxes of Lego are lawn darts – a.k.a., Jarts. Lawn darts were the scud missiles of my childhood. They were foot-long darts with thick metal points. A kid was supposed to lob them gently at plastic rings you placed in the grass. Yeah, right. We would hurl them as high into the sky as we could. Sometimes, we would hurl them as high as we could from attic windows. I have memories of diving under trees with my hands over my head like a helmet. The Internet is awash in Lawn Dart disasters, and the versions with metal tips were banned for sale in the United States in 1988.

Good call. It’s a miracle the Jarts Generation ever made it to adulthood.

The other day I visited toy stores to see what’s out there for kids now: What might Santa be bringing this season? I began at Jamie Two Coats Toy Shop in Shelburne, Vermont. There, owner Nancy Barringer and her twin nine-year-old daughters, Lucy and Celi, gave me a tour.

First of all, if you have girls between the ages of three and ten, you have to visit the back room of the store, which I swear is where Cinderella and Snow White do all of their shopping. There must have been 150 princess capes and gowns, all between $10 and $75. There were also swords with grips and pommels made of wood, but the scabbard crafted from reinforced felt. In other words, no lawn dart dangers here.

And on a wall opposite the Kate Middleton dressing room (yes, the British Princess isn’t always topless), are some of the coolest toy soldiers and action figures I’ve ever seen. We’re not talking bags of monochromatic plastic soldiers an inch-and-a-half high. These characters includes Roman warriors, crusaders from the Middle Ages, pirates, and figures from the Wild West – all impeccably painted and richly detailed. They cost between $8 and $14.

The store imports many of its toys from Europe, and Nancy showed me one item from France that I photographed and showed to my wife: Le Petite Armoire. Imagine a miniature, old-fashioned steamer trunk that stands vertically – like an armoire. Inside are a stuffed bunny and a stuffed mouse, their shelves and their clothing. It’s pricey – $96 – but when my wife looked at the photo, she smiled and said that our daughter would have loved it when she was a little girl.

Finally, consider the Haba Baby Airy-Fairy Baby Swing – if, of course, you have a baby. It would just be creepy to buy one for yourself. The swing looks like a parachute, complete with chute, suspension lines, and harness. Hang it from the ceiling so it almost touches the floor, and then strap your nine to eighteen-month-old into it. Apparently, kids love it. The swing costs $149.

I also visited Toys R Us in Williston, Vermont and happily wandered the aisles there. A big box store like Toys R Us has lots of licensed, TV, and videogame-inspired merchandise, but sometimes caving in to popular culture is not the worst thing you can do. Exhibit A? Doc McStuffins. She’s an animated six-year-old girl on the Disney Channel, and she repairs broken toys and stuffed animals. There are a lot of Doc McStuffins toys out there, and it’s hard for some stores to keep the merchandise in stock.

Same with Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates: They’re a line of toys that are linked to a TV show, and they are (to paraphrase Peter Pan) flying off the shelves.

My sense is that Santa’s elves manufacture items for both Jaime Two Coats and Toys R Us, and ship toys to both stores. But those original lawn darts? I’ll bet the elves keep those bad boys for themselves.

(This column ran originally in the Burlington Free Press on December 2, 2012. Chris’s next novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” goes on sale on July 16, 2013.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.