Samantha on a Roll, by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christine Davenier is an utterly delightful book. Frustrated that her mom can't help her try out her new roller skates, Samantha takes matters into her own hands (and feet). Told in verse, Samantha on a Roll demonstrates the old-fashioned joys of speed, independence, and of getting away with a little misbehavior. The skates, although not the story, also bring to mind the old Newbery-award winner, Roller Skates, a chapter book for older kids set in 1890s New York, which follows 10-year-old Lucinda as she explores the city on skates with considerable freedom.
We didn't give our girls roller skates this holiday season (I wasn't sure whether they were even still sold until a quick search reassured me) but we did give one old-fashioned toy (and one mentioned in a book!) and the kids loved it: steppers. Essentially overturned buckets or cans with rope handles attached, these are a simpler version of stilts. In one of the Ramona books, she and her friend Howie make them out of tins cans. The modern-day plastic version is a bit safer although you do sacrifice the do-it-yourself aspect.
Other old-fashioned toys that are always popular: building toys of all sorts (wooden blocks, Legos, Magnatiles, marble runs), magnifying glasses, binoculars (well-received here, too), puzzles, dolls, pretty paper/notebooks and pencils (a princess stationery set was put to immediate use), board games (Shut the Box and Mastermind for Kids were also hits at our house this year), jump ropes, scooters (which appear in Mimmy and Sophie under the guise of "skate boxes") and of course, bicycles. Toys are notably absent from the Little House series (for a while Laura makes do with a doll made from a corn cob) and although I know that children back then were both better able to amuse themselves, of necessity, and kept busy doing chores, it still strikes me as rather sad and boring.
What is your or your kids' favorite "old-fashioned" toy?