Last week my niece Ava, whom I call Ava Monster much to her delight, celebrated her first birthday. My sister had the luck to have her first child during a time when the world was in the midst of a pandemic – leave it to Jenny to add an extra challenge to pregnancy.

As I attempt to be the most awesome aunt in the universe to my niblings, buying gifts is very serious business to me. Sure, I pick up books every so often for my nephew and niece for no other reason than I love to watch them listen to the words and point to the pictures. My nephew’s recent discovery of hippos lead to me buying him a book about Fiona the hippo; he likes to point out the ‘peepos’ (aka hippos), animals and bubbles.

My niece is a fan of “That’s Not My Puppy;” so much so that we had to replace the first copy when the binding started to come apart.

But when it comes to birthdays and holidays, I want to make sure I get them a gift that they will enjoy. Shopping to find a gift for a 1-year-old is not as easy as you would expect.

I wanted to buy my monster something that would spark her imagination and allow her to play creatively. I honestly don’t know the level of creativity among babies but I’m a big fan of having my niblings use their imagination.

My first stop was Google to find out what the best toys for 1-year-olds are and there were more lists than I imagined possible. When I saw what people found to be the best toys, I automatically dismissed the electronic LeapPad offerings – yes, it’s important for little tykes to learn colors and shapes and animal noises, etc. but my niblings will likely spend a lot of time with electronics as they get older. I wanted something with more activity involved.

The issue with finding toys for the monster was ensuring whatever I bought her wouldn’t be a choking hazard. So many of the toys were based on ages for developmental purposes; I just wanted to know the likelihood of it being dangerous.

I thought about the toys my nephew played with when he was 1. And I thought about what toys I already knew my niece had as I didn’t want to duplicate the toys she had at home or at my parents’ place. Additionally, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a gift (hey, I’m an aunt without children – I’m supposed to spoil my niblings but I could easily get carried away).

Eventually I found a great gift for her: a Little People animal train. Ava could play with it in the sandbox and inside, the people and animal figures wouldn’t be a choking hazard, she could push and pull the train, and it had a bit of sound. It was probably as close to perfect as I could find.

And of course, I had to buy her a book. But finding one of those took a lot less thinking.

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