If you're hoping for a Kindle or iPod Touch this holiday season, it pays to think ahead. Which applications will you buy? For $10 you could get a half-dozen new games. But with thousands of choices at the App Store, Amazon and Google Play, how do you know which ones are fun and which are a waste of a dollar?
We tried out new apps for 7-to-12-year-olds -- games, puzzles, arts and crafts, and even a few your parents would call educational -- and picked some to entertain you over the holidays. The paid apps are worth every penny, and a few won't cost you a single cent.
Angry Birds Star Wars
The birds are back, and they've got the Force on their side. Angry Birds Star Wars dresses the birds as Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and other characters, and gives them extra powers to knock down those pigs, which are now Pigtroopers. Luke has an obstacle-slicing light saber, Obi-Wan has the Force, and Han Solo has a blaster.
The game opens on the planet Tatooine, moves into space -- where you have to deal with zero gravity -- and then to the Death Star, which has the face of a pig. If you fail a level, a Darth Vader pig appears and laughs, or oinks, at you. A free bonus level features R2-D2 armed with a tractor beam and a C-3PO that falls apart. Gamemaker Rovio promises a free update featuring the snowy Hoth planet. Will the pigs strike back?
Rovio. Android: free; ad-free version for Android, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad: 99 cents; HD version for iPad, Kindle and Nook: $2.99. In-app purchase of second bonus level: $1.99.
Where's My Perry?
Perry the Platypus from Disney's "Phineas and Ferb" has a spin-off of the popular "Where's My Water?" app.
Perry, or Agent P, needs to get to his underground base to uncover the latest schemes of evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. But the water that fuels his transport tube has been blocked by gates and lasers that change water to steam or ice.
Players have to find a path for the water and try to collect bonus gnomes along the way.
The free version has one mission with a dozen levels. Paid versions include four missions with 20 levels each.
Disney. Android, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad: free; ad-free version that includes more levels: 99 cents; Nook: $1.99.
Meet the Insects: Forest Edition
December isn't prime time for nature walks. But if you love bugs, you don't have to wait until spring to see butterflies, cicadas and stink bugs, thanks to this app.
Check out a video of two male Japanese beetles fighting over a female or a brown cicada turning into an adult.
You can read about insects' life cycles, their colors and patterns and their habits.
The app features no games, but there are two types of quizzes to test your knowledge.
NC Soft. iPad only: $3.99.
If you're particular about what you wear and enjoy mixing and matching clothes, Toca Tailor is a good fit for you.
Four characters -- a boy, a girl and two animals -- come simply dressed in a shirt and pants. A slide of the finger turns the pants into shorts. A tap changes the style to puffy or cutoffs or a miniskirt. Tap on the box with the thread to change patterns -- and you can pick more than one. (How about shorts that have polka dots on one leg and leopard spots on the other?)
You can also add pockets, buttons and zippers to your colorful creations. Complete your outfit with hats, scarves, shoes and other items from an accessories box.
Toca Boca. iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad. $2.99.
Collaborating, or working together, isn't common among painters. It's hard to imagine Pablo Picasso saying to his friend Henri Matisse, "I'll do the left side of the canvas, and you do the right." But that's the idea of the Half Team app. You can use e-mail to work with a drawing partner far away or use "pass and play" to draw with someone in the same room.
Clustered Apps. iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad: $1.99.
Which flag is the one with the red maple leaf in the center? If you answered "Canada," then you're up for the challenge of Aliens Abducted. Three aliens -- Moe, Barry and Marvin -- have been taken from their planets and sent to Earth.
Bilu Games. iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad: free; add more levels with 99-cent version, which is free for a limited time.
The 39 Clues: Vesper Hunt
You don't have to be a fan of "The 39 Clues" book series to enjoy jumping into the world of spies and evil plots. You're part of the Cahill family, and the archenemy Vesper is always up to no good. You receive an assignment that will require you to solve puzzles in order to unlock clues about Vesper's latest plot.
Scholastic. iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad: free.
If you're looking for a more challenging kind of word-search puzzle, this app passes the test. In the app's Finder game, you are given a series of clues about the hidden words. (For example, a Pacific Northwest state that has six letters. Did you guess "Oregon"?) Once you think you know the word, look for it on the board.
Word Winder. iPad only: free for three games and one bonus level. In-app purchases of 99 cents to $1.99 unlock additional games.