Today's school supplies are packed with personality, and kids have an imaginative array of gear to choose from as they prep for the start of a new year.
Backpacks come in a variety of sizes to fit different toting needs and capabilities. And forget the simple brown paper bag: Lunch containers are an expanding category, with everything from insulated sacks to kits with lidded compartments. The range is so stylish and user-savvy that kids just might find mom or dad wanting to share.
In the early years of self-discovery, it's fun to find different ways to say, "This is me!" Kids will find that easy this year. There are lace and damask designs, camouflage and brick-wall patterns, animal prints, sequins or pastels. Super hero, video game, and music and TV star images hit the pop culture button.
OFF TO CLASS
At Pottery Barn Kids, the backpacks range in size from mini to rolling, so you don't have to worry about your preschooler heading off with a refrigerator-size tote on his back, and the fifth graders with giant science texts can roll their volumes comfortably back and forth.
Patterns range from butterflies, horses, and owls in hip hues like plum and chocolate to dinosaur-skeleton and snakeskin prints in browns, greys and blues. (www.pbkids.com )
Kohl's has backpacks for fall that aim to appeal to kids from elementary through high school.
"Backpacks are a fashionable and functional way for students to express their personality and show off their style," said Sofia Wacksman, Kohl's vice-president for trend. "Bright colours and bold prints are a big trend this back-to-school season."
Girls might like the colored leopard print, boho floral, and fun graphic hearts patterns. Plaids, moustaches, leaf prints and skulls round out the range. (www.kohls.com )
A collection of rolling backpacks in fun animal designs like pandas, frogs and pigs are at ebags.com The retailer's also got a line of appropriately sized, colorful preschoolers' packs from 03 USA that have handy integrated lunch coolers. Designs include soccer balls, motorcycles and space shuttles. The Bookworm backpack, also small, has a reflective panel for low light conditions, and a waterproof layer along the bottom. (www.ebags.com )
How many backpacks have disappeared in your kids' school career? Never lose another with one of Café Press's customizable tags. The company partnered with Snapily last fall to create the tags with lenticular printing — that 3-D, animated effect. You can upload your own photos for a personalized tag, or use the company's geometric, tree or paisley designs. (www.cafepress.com )
LUNCH AND SNACK TIME
The traditional Japanese bento-box lunch kit has found its way to our shores in a big way. Parents like that they're reusable, and kids like that the little compartments neatly hold a variety of snacks. Japanese maker Shinzi Katoh makes some of the best ones — space robot, forest, circus and Paddington Bear designs are featured on tiered, non-toxic boxes. They also make a clever lunchbox that unzips into a tidy placemat: Choose a cow, cat or dog design. (www.mysweetmuffin.com )
Pottery Barn Kids has some stainless steel versions of the bento box, as well as compartmentalized lunch bags with a spot for a parent to write a note. The retailer also has a cute collection of mix-and-match themed lunchboxes, sacks, water bottles and backpacks.
For a leak-proof, stainless, insulated, 16-ounce container that gives the option of providing hot soup, chili or stew, try www.lunchbots.com .
Land of Nod's got Skip Hop's cute-as-a-button Feeding Time lunch bags for the preschool set, in ladybug, owl or dog patterns. They come with a clip that attaches to a child's backpack. (www.landofnod.com )
Target has some cute lunch kits with cheetah or owl faces, and a colorful line of lunch sacks and snack and sandwich sleeves from Built NY that might mean sharesies with brown-bagging parents.
Rubbermaid ice packs in the shape of silly owls, dogs or monsters are whimsical ways to keep lunch cool. (www.target.com)
For the classroom, Target's houndstooth, plaid and metallic dot binders hit the unisex pattern trends head on. Blinged-out scissors and staplers, and fun pencil cases shaped like flip flops or printed in colorful lace patterns have a girly vibe.
At PB Teen, plaid, chevron, patchwork and tie-dye patterns add zing to the pencil case and homework holder collection. (www.pbteen.com)
Got a sports-loving girl in the house? She can show her competitive spirit with one of Café Press' "swim," ''dance," ''field hockey" or "soccer" journals. Dog lovers might like a journal photoprinted with unusual breeds like shar peis, basenjis and greyhounds.
Colorful national flags, including those of France, Italy, Cuba and Canada, emblazon a spiral notebook collection at Zazzle.com, which also has fun clip chains shaped like basketballs, softballs or volleyballs. They can be personalized to help young athletes keep track of their stuff. (www.zazzle.com )