Eco-Babes in Toyland

That action figure’s plastic is loaded with toxic PVC phthalates. That teddy bear is literally stuffed with pesticides. Game Boy may not make you sick, but it’s just plain mind-numbing. And Barbie, well, let’s not even get started. What can you give children this holiday season that keeps them safe, helps the environment and will still produce the expected squeal of happiness as the wrapping paper (recycled, of course) flies in shreds across the room?

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Childsake, an online store, offers a wide selection of nontoxic, environmentally responsible games, toys, puzzles and art supplies. New parents can rest easy when their baby plays with Stella ($26.99), a multi-colored rocking toy of sheep, moon and stars. Its sustainably forested wood is stained with nontoxic, water-based dyes. The Dragon Fly Eco Toy ($19.99) is handmade from natural materials and ecological dyes by a member of a rural artisan cooperative in Sri Lanka. Other Eco Toy critters include the crocodile, kangaroo, tree frog, lion and caterpillar ($11.99 to $39.99).

Another socially positive product is the Tagua Nut Pendant Necklace ($19.49). Accompanying a sun, leaf, animal or flower pendant are ivory-like nuts hand-carved by people in the Ecuadorian rainforest through Conservation International’s Tagua Initiative. Tired of family rounds of Trivial Pursuit or Millionaire? Try Bioviva ($27.49). Made from recycled materials, this all-ages board game lets players travel the world while answering questions about nature and the environment.

Childsake also helps sponsor the educations of three children—a girl in Mali, a girl in Nepal and a boy in the U.S. Appalachian region—and earmarks five percent of its sales to organizations such as Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots and the Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “Pollution doesn’t obey political boundaries,” says Childsake founder Ligia Ercius-DiPaola. “We’re in this together, and we have to help each other out.”

green toys' width=When lullabies and stories just won’t cut it, Herbal Animals’ stuffed toys ($17 to $32) might help get your young one to sleep. These toys are filled with a mixture of flax seed and organically grown herbs known for their relaxing qualities. For example, Leonardo Deer Vinci is full of lavender, echinacea and mugwort; Eartha Cat, chamomile, orange and mugwort; Harry Elephante, lavender, spearmint and peppermint. And while you might get a bigger kick out of the names than your kids do, these lovable, soft organic toys are sure to find a welcome place on your child’s bed.

Styling Babies

You may want to go a more practical route by giving clothes for the holidays. No longer is the coarse, brown-on-brown image of organic fabrics valid. A number of small manufacturers are making organic cotton clothes that offer the softness and color of conventional fabric but without the pesticides that can be particularly harmful to a child’s sensitive skin. “You think about babies and how they come out of the purest place on the planet—the womb—and you just don’t want to wrap them in something treated with 15 different chemicals,” says Mary Fellows, founder of Little Merry Fellows, a children’s clothing company. Perfect for expectant mothers, Fellows’ Baby Stork Nest ($55 for small, $130 for large) comes with an organic receiving blanket, rattle, hat and a bag Mom can keep. Through April 2002, Little Merry Fellows will also give Greenpeace 10 percent of sales made from the organic rainforest receiving blanket ($34) or the fleece-like Eco-Spun whale wrap ($50), complete with fins and tail, made from recycled soda bottles.

Green Babies is another organic clothing company that combines environmentalism with style. Rich fall colors of tomato red, pumpkin orange, pea pod green and eggplant purple make up Green Babies’ veggie patch line of pants, cardigans, hats, rompers and tee shirts ($17 to $22). Just be sure not to lose your kid in the garden. Also adopting the garden motif is Maggie’s Organics, which arranges neatly planted rows of fruit or vegetables across the chest of its Mixed Fruit and Organic Baby Garden tee shirts ($19). Or try Maggie’s cotton baby caps, socks, bibs and crib sheets ($6.50 to $34).

Working in the garment industry has made all of these women more socially conscious. “The thought of wanting to put a child into something pure extends beyond the chemicals in the garments to the working conditions of the people making them,” says Benã Burda, founder of Maggie”s. That’s why Maggie’s has pledged its sewing contract to a co-op of 25 women in Nicaragua who were displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. That’s also why Green Babies’ factory is run by women and pays fair wages and why Little Merry Fellows’ clothes are made by a co-op of six stay-at-home moms.

Use Your Imagination

For a change of pace, a subscription to All Round magazine is sure to spark creative minds. This biannual magazine ($11.50 per year), published on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, proclaims itself “a radical mag for children ages 1 to 100+.” With a fun design that could be a collage of childhood itself, each issue interweaves fantasy, play, curiosity, contests and games with a different theme. Past issues have delved into the wonders that keep kids up at night: What is the moon? The sky? Trees? Color? Light? Flying?

For the altruistic child in your household, or perhaps for the whole family, Alternative Gifts International is definitely worth a look. The nonprofit, interfaith agency helps send gifts to the poor throughout the world. Three dollars can buy three papaya, drumstick and coconut trees for the people of Orissa, India, whose food security was devastated by a cyclone. For $33, you can have a fuel-efficient stove installed for a family in El Salvador. Other projects include contributing to a general emergency disaster relief fund, protecting an acre of Colombian rainforest for $40 and buying $55 mountain bikes for a woman or child in Ghana.

With all of the hullabaloo (and accompanying stress) of the holiday season, these gifts make giving back to the Earth easy.