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2009CriticsKids

Best Baking Boot Camp
Little Baker's Workshops

When it’s too hot and too dry for backyard mud pies, the little ones head over to the Cookie Lounge for hands-on training on how to mix, roll, and cut their own one-of-a-kind cookie creations. While everything bakes up and cools off, the little bakers craft their own take-home dessert boxes and decorate their baked treats to their inner-Picasso’s desire. Parents will note the central location and wi-fi lounge to cool off with a bit of cookie calmness.

Cookie Lounge, 2222 Rio Grande, Bldg. B-120, 512/478-2253, www.austincookielounge.com

Best Brats on the Track
Austin Derby Brats

Like any good sport, women’s Roller Derby has its own peewee league. These junior skaters are the teen and preteen future of Austin’s tracks. Its Big Sister Program brings together skaters from both the flat track TXRG and the banked track TXRD to guide the next generation of wheeled wonders around the curves and up to the jammer line.

Austin Derby Brats, www.austinderbybrats.com

Best Children's Book Author, 1999
Louis Sachar

Reputed author of the Wayside School and Marvin Redpost series of children's books, this Austin writer has fans – young and not so young – across the globe. His book Holes won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1999. The story that struck gold for Sachar is about a boy wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to digging a new hole every day under the hot Texas sun.

Louis Sachar, www.louissachar.com

Best Driving Lesson, 2001
The Skid Marks at Conans Pizza

Nothing like a moral with your pizza. Now we're not going to belabor the actual news story of the truck that smashed right through the glass wall that is the entrance to our beloved Conans on 29th. That driver must be humiliated enough (if she or he even survived …). But we will say that while you and the kids are waiting for your scrumptious pie, you might wish to point out the massive black skid marks that reside just a few feet into the store. See, the floors at Conans are your typical grade commercial vinyl, and those blistering truck treads burned indelible scars into it. What remains is a testimonial to bad driving. And, trust us, when you point out the damage and tell the tale, the kids will be very impressed, indeed.

Conans Pizza, 2438 W. Anderson, 512/459-3222, www.conanspizza.com

Conans Pizza, 603 W. 29th, 512/478-5712, www.conanspizza.com

Conans Pizza, 2018 W. Stassney, 512/441-6754, www.conanspizza.com

Best Evidence the Grrrl Torch Has Been Passed
'I’m the Fox'

As if the brilliance of its name, half a line from a Runaways song, weren’t enough, I’m the Fox's nutty, button-pushing logo lets us know just how deeply it gets that delicious blend of righteousness and absurdism that makes being a feminist so freakin’ fun. Teen founders Zoe Graham and Nadia Ezaboe met last year in the zine workshop at Girls Rock Camp Austin (itself a feminist wonderland) and bonded over their love of art and collage-making; the result is this touching, hilarious genius of a webzine. We’ve come a long way, babies.

I'm the Fox, www.imthefox.com

Best Free Haircut
Supreme Clientele

The best free haircut? Comes with free back-to-school supplies, of course. For the second year in a row, Ramont Mittchell and the crew of Supreme Clientele collected donations from various vendors to offer local kids a high-stylin' and totally outfitted first day of school. We wonder if Ghostface chipped in.

Supreme Clientele, 1200 W. Howard Ste. N, 512/252-8192, www.myspace.com

Best Friend to Fluffy Dreams
Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company

Ricki Vincent may look like the tattooed troll under the bridge, but the man pulling the strings at Geppetto Dreams has lived up to his promise to make the world a cooler place one puppet at a time. The sad news is that a funding shortage is dropping the curtain forever in September, but his puppetry camps have introduced the children of East Austin and beyond to the skills and thrills of the arts of European-style marionettes and Japanese Bunraku.

Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company, 1715 E. Seventh, 512/358-4632, www.geppettodreams.com

Best Gentrification Protest, 2005
Young Scholars for Justice, PODER

The Young Scholars for Justice is a group of high school students, led by PODER (People in Defense of Earth and Her Resources). The scholars researched Eastside gentrification, and what they learned inspired action. In spring of 2004, they filmed a movie about the history and politics of land use on the Eastside, painted acrylic paintings symbolizing dedication to their community, choreographed a choral poem, staged a minidrama of Abuela getting her terrifying property taxes, and held a gentrification protest. The young activists spread the word: To "afford" the new affordable housing ventures on East Sixth and East Fifth, a family must earn 80% of the mean household income in Austin … but Eastside residents, on average, make 20% of the mean household income.

PODER, 2604 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/472-9921, www.poder-texas.org

Best Place to Prepare Yourself for the Future
American YouthWorks

For more than 30 years, American YouthWorks has been helping Austin's at-risk youth prepare for adulthood and strive for success. In that time the organization – which provides life-skills training, counseling, and health care, among other services – has served nearly 20,000 Travis County kids. AYW boasts three award-winning job training programs: Casa Verde Builders, where kids earn money while learning to build five-star energy-efficient affordable housing; the Environmental Corps, which allows students to earn money for higher education while building and restoring trails and facilities in public parks and on public lands; and the Computer Corps, where students learn and teach computer skills to others. In 1996, AYW started its own open-enrollment charter school, which now operates at two campuses and educates nearly 1,000 kids each year. AYW has been doing the hard work for a long time and certainly lives up to the motto of its founder, Richard Halpin: "Serve people fully and ask them to serve their community in return."

American YouthWorks South Campus, 1901 E. Ben White, 512/744-1900, www.americanyouthworks.org

American YouthWorks Downtown Campus, 216 E. Fourth, 512/236-6100, www.americanyouthworks.org

Best Place to Teach Kids Restaurant Manners
Driskill 1886 Cafe & Bakery

Okay, admit it before we do – your kiddo desperately needs to learn fine-dining manners. A most amenable way to coach etiquette is to book a dressy "date" Downtown with your child at the Driskill Hotel's 1886 Cafe & Bakery. Kids love the historic ambiance – just a bit fancy, with cloth napkins, a sparkling chandelier, and cozy booths. Go for dessert – the amazing cakes, pies, and ice-cream dishes are created by pastry Executive Chef Tony Sansalone. (The $7 banana split is a family favorite – a tradition for celebrations.) Then coach your little darling on proper use of a cloth napkin (no, not for spitting your gum out, dear), silverware, and making pleasant "inside voice" conversation. Should mama get stressed, there's a wine list, too.

1886 Cafe & Bakery, 604 Brazos, 512/391-7066, www.1886cafeandbakery.com

Best Princess Party
Dance Discovery

Princesses (especially the 5-year-old variety), expect every detail to be perfect. The Dance Discovery crew – in addition to being a group of fine children's dance instructors – is up to the royal task, with costumes, storytime ballet, and cake. And you'll be done well before your carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

Dance Discovery, 2110 White Horse Trail, 512/419-7611, www.dancediscovery.com

Best Store Pet, 2002
Mafesto at Cheapo Records

Ya gotta love a record store that values its pet dog's opinion as highly as it does the employee picks for good listening. Mafesto, the bulgy-eyed, moon-faced pug often found at the front desk, joins the illustrious list of our "Best of Austin" store pets if only because he's so cute. Owner Jason Shields knows a good thing when he sees it, too. Mafesto appears in the store's ads as "Ernest Pug." All together now – "awwww."

Cheapo Discs, 914 N. Lamar, 512/477-4499, www.cheapotexas.com

Best Summer Vacation for Girls
Girls Rock Camp Austin

It was only a matter of time before our fair city got its own Girls Rock Camp, and we're better for it. Since 2007, the camp – organized and run by a who's who of local lady rockers, who also serve as volunteer mentors – has provided summer sessions for girls ages 10-18 who want to learn how to play instruments, start a band, or embrace their inner writers, artists, zine-makers, and promoters. The next wave of Austin musicians: fun, fearless, female.

Girls Rock Camp Austin, PO Box 300897, Austin, TX 78703, 512/658-9021, www.girlsrockaustin.org

Best Teen Music Competition
Blastbeat USA

Founded by the Cure's former manager Robert Stephenson, Blastbeat USA seeks to educate young people about the music business as well as give them a place to play. The kids are taught how to form a record label and promote concerts and competitions, then invest profits back into the community. Implementing a program that works within area high schools, Blastbeat's local showing has been impressive. Last year's local winner Blues Mafia flew to Dublin to compete in the international competition; this year's winner is the Cipher.

Blastbeat USA, www.blastbeat.org

Best Temporary Infill
Spirit Halloween

If there's one thing scarier than Halloween, it's empty storefronts where jobs used to be. So there’s no happier sight in the witching season than when the Halloween stores open the crypt doors every September, offering scads of selection for kids on the All Hallow's hunt for the perfect costume. This year, there will be a bunch of former Circuit City and Salvation Army stores getting a second lease on life. It may be a brief resurrection, but for the staff providing the latest Disney disguise or Transformer transformation, it’s a welcome cash infusion.

Spirit Halloween Capital Plaza, Capital Plaza, 5329 N. I-35, www.spirithalloween.com

Spirit Halloween Arbor Walk, Arbor Walk, 10515 MoPac N., www.spirithalloween.com

Spirit Halloween Round Rock, Hester's Crossing, 2200 S. I-35, Round Rock, www.spirithalloween.com

2 more locations

Best Way to Find Wi-Fi in Town
Aspyr's 'Treasure World'

Local game developer Aspyr – once best known for programming PC games for release on Macs – has made a splash on other platforms from the iPhone to the Xbox. The most interesting of the bunch being Treasure World for the Nintendo DS in that it encourages exploration instead of sitting around. The game searches for wi-fi signals around you and rewards every discovery with booty ranging from new clothes for your character to decorations for your cyber yard. The game remembers what signals you've already found, so adventure to faraway locales for the finest rewards.

Aspyr Media, INC., PO Box 5861, 512/708-8100, www.clubtreasureworld.com

Best Zoo Out East
Capital of Texas Zoo

The lobby of this small zoo off Highway 71 between Austin and Bastrop is wall-to-wall creep and crawl with every imaginable snake and other slithering thing populating the shack. Outside, the path takes you first to visit some domesticated pals. The piggies are good for a few snorts, but we sure wouldn't want to be them should any of their neighbors from the big cat habitat find its way out of its fortified home. Come feeding time, you can watch handlers hand-feed the feline beasties (bobcats love chicken!), and for our tamer, hooved friends, you can purchase feed (please do not offer them any of your popcorn – or your clothes) to see just how quickly that big ol' deer can schluck it down. Open every day (including holidays), 9am-5pm.

Capital of Texas Zoo, 376-A Jenkins Rd., Cedar Creek, 512/303-6675, www.capitaloftexaszoo.org

Most Socially Responsible Hip-Hop Crew
The Cipher

The many members of the Cipher are working to create social change in the community via the power of music – hip-hop, to be specific. The mixed-gender crew of youngsters is dedicated and serious enough to have just delivered its first CD, From Soldiers to Warriors. Inspired by the New York Hip Hop Project and with direction from Shannon Sandrea, the Cipher's joyously spontaneous stage presence and irresistible beats won it top honors at this year's local Blastbeat competition.

The Cipher, www.thecipheratx.org

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