1997 Readers Poll
1997 Critics Picks
Best Agency For Kids In Trouble

This private non-profit outfit gets our vote for the extraordinary range of services it provides to children in life-threatening situations. Travis County's abused and neglected children are brought to the Center by law enforcement and child protective services personnel for care and evaluation until permanent homes can be found. It's a safe haven where medical care, counseling and educational evaluation are available to help begin rebuilding the lives of our most precious community resource.

PO Box 684213, 258-4579

Best Anticipated Bundle Of Joy

We just can't wait for the grand autumn re-opening of our beloved children's museum in its brand new downtown location. We are pacing the halls, practicing our breathing, buying cigars, and even Kegeling while we wait!

1830 Simond

Photo by John Anderson

Best Bucket

In some cases, a "bucket" means a small amount — like, if you had to bail out a sinking boat with a bucket — that would take forever. But sometimes, a bucket is a buttload. Take, ferinstance, Celebration Station's Bucket of Fun deal. For $49, you get 280 tokens. Whoa! That's $70 worth of tokens to waste as you like, on Cruisin' USA or Lethal Enforcer or whichever brain-draining video game you choose. No, this bucket is one that would even make Mr. Creosote proud.

4525 S. I-35, 448-3533

Best Buddies

In 1982, a librarian at the Carver Branch decided to provide neighborhood students with a homework center staffed by volunteers. Fifteen years and several VISTA grants later, the program is now a multiple-award-winning partnership between AISD and the City of Austin, providing tutoring services in nine East and South Austin branch libraries. We discovered the summer version, helping young kids with reading in the afternoons and early evenings at their neighborhood libraries but tutoring is available throughout the year. Potential tutors only need to commit one hour per week each semester to have a profound impact as a reading buddy.

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth

Best Friend To Kids In Trouble

The blistering tirades unleashed at parents accused of drug abuse, child abuse or neglect before Judge Meurer's court are legendary in the Travis County judicial system. Her tough-mindedness and passionate advocacy are often the last line of defense for some Austin kids at risk. Bravo, your honor.

98th District Court, Travis County Courthouse, 473-9307

Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich

For the longest time, we couldn't decide what we liked better about the Frisco Shop: the counter service or the beehives on the waitstaff. Now we are utterly confused, because there's yet another thing to keep the last living Nighthawk in our hearts forever. We realize that it is one place we can take the kids and have not only an attentive server who actually finds children interesting and enjoyable customers, but the kind of kids menu that even the most finicky will find satisfying. Ours likes the Grilled Cheese. He says it's the best he's ever had. Ahem. Next to mama's, of course.

Best Hot Time

Open since March, Fire Works provides a novel alternative to the pizza/video game kiddie date. It's always a minor miracle to see a dozen 8-10 year olds quietly working together. Fire Works provides the paints, brushes and age-appropriate pottery. You and tykie supply the imagination. Four days later, pick up your finished, glazed ceramic objet and watch your little artiste's eyes light up. Recommended for the art allergic/ phobic. We had great success with our artphobe. Discounts for birthdays and groups larger than eight.

10225 Research, 338-1715

Best Kids Culture Club

This very active group under the direction of art teacher Lynn Bryant was well-represented at two of our favorite holiday celebrations this past year. The in-school exhibit of the ofrendas they constructed for Dia de los Muertos enlightened us about the cultural celebration of that holiday last November. We were also very impressed to see the wooden brightly painted Valentine hearts they donated to La Pena's Toma Mi Corazon fundraiser in February. Salud!

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth

photograph by Kenny Braun   Kenny Braun

Best Kids Skating Lessons

You've seen him for years rolling around town, posting flyers. Some historic sources even suggest he owned the very first pair of Rollerblades ever. But what you might not know is that Fritz Blau is no stinge-meister with his secrets of Zen & the Art of Blading. Offering classes to both kids and adults, from klutzes to the future Tonya Hardings of the concrete jungle, Fritz has patience that knows no end. Monthly tuition for four classes is $40 and features technique tips and safety soundbites. He can even set you up with rental blades and pads if'n you're still deciding whether or not you wheely want to skate on a regular basis.

8015 Shoal Creek, 452-8775

Best Lo-key Video Arcade

It's not necessary to go all the way out to the burbs to find video arcades with great selection. The campus area boasts a number well-maintained arcades with the latest hits. But for smaller videots, the atmosphere can be a bit daunting. Not that our eight-year-old can't whip the baggy pants and wallet chains offa most of the area's Area 51 pros- but parents aren't concerned with worthy competition, we worry about envirnoment. Powerplay has all the excitement of an arcade on the drag without all the overstimulation or street-traffic. Plus, there are added bonuses of pool and air hockey, for those rare occasions when junior wants to exercise more than just thumbs.

Town Lake to 38th Street

Best Local Fossil Hunting

Tiny, ancient snail-like crustaceans are camouflaged in the pale mud lining Shoal Creek. Once you find the first graphite gray or buff colored specimen you'll realize that you're SURROUNDED!! Very satisfying to the novice fossil finder. There are other more exotic beasties concealed the the flaking limestone, See how many different kinds you and Rocky (or Roxie) can exhume(dig up). The best hunting is after a good rain. As always, exercise caution!!

Best Musical Introduction

Middle school kids and classical music - not your ordinary mix. Thanks to the Austin Symphony, fourth, fifth and sixth graders every year are treated to a program designed to expand their view on music. We remember attending as kids, and being amazed that such beautiful music could be created just for us.

Austin Symphony Orchestra
1101 Red River

Best Option For Kids With Few Resources Left

Area teens who've struck out of traditional school systems experience success every day with the "project-based" education programs at AIL. Project-based means hands-on learning, developing skills in the same real-world context where they'll be used. Students in the Casa Verde Builders unit acquire construction skills and a sense of community involvement while building innovative, affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods. The Cultural Warriors theatre class and performance troupe develop communication and interpersonal skills, turning aggressive behavior into creative expression by writing, producing and performing theatre pieces. Where was this place when we were in school?

American Institute For Learning
204 E. Fourth

Best Organized Sports Program For Kids

Little League, with it's body-threatening hard balls and overzealous parents might have turned us off of competitive team sports forever, but discovering PARD's summer swim team program turned all that around. The public pool program focuses on doing your best, cheering your mates and getting fit. Practicing for an hour five days a week and competing in swim meets on Saturdays, the kids rack up a ton of supervised water time (and sleep like babies every night!). It all culminates with a city-wide event at UT's Jamail Swim Center, where everyone is cheered - for beating their own best times or just for finishing the race. This is the kind of competitive sport every kid (and parent) should experience.

Dept. of Aquatics
901 W. Riverside

Best Place That Might Consider Target Marketing Families More

What a perfect set up: Movies, food, and an attentive waitstaff. The Alamo could introduce a whole new generation of kids to the wonders of George Pal and the Harryhausens, to serials and superheros, to matinee idols and musicals. But with their current 21 & up policy, Alamo Drafthouse is limiting its clientele of funky film aficienados. We think weekend matinees and occasional family fare will move so many nachos and foccacia, that diminished beer sales might not matter. Then again, some accompanying parents will hold their own in the brew department, so it might not even matter.

Alamo Drafthouse
Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson #701, 512/861-7030
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar, 512/861-7040
Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane, 5701 W. Slaughter, 512/861-7060
Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, 14028 Hwy. 183 N., 512/861-7070

Best Place To Encourage Your Young Drama Queen Or King

You've seen their productions, now see their academy. Serving two groups, ages 5-7 and 7-17, this summer marked the first training session for the theatre. For the young set it's about creativity, motion and exploration. For the older kids it's all about theatre; everything from performance to technical production. We know one six-year old boy who summed it up quite nicely, "It is sooo AWESOME." Director Chuck Tuttle already has the program and staff ready and raring to go for another session to begin in the Fall.

Austin Theatre for Youth
710 E. 41st

photograph by Kenny Braun   Kenny Braun

Best Place To Hang With Your Elementary School Buddies After The 2:45 Bell

For the working parent, afterschool childcare doesn't have to pose a major problem. The Austin Parks & Recreation Department offers great aftercare programs at area rec centers. Our pup goes to Hancock Rec Center. Aftercare counselors meet and supervise his walk from school with a gaggle of other kids. At the center, Hancock provides a supervised homework time and snacks, then plenty of time for play. The counselors are very cool and address concerns with parents in the same professional manner a teacher might.

Hancock Recreation Center
811 E. 41st

Best Place To Show Your Kids Real Star Wars Toys

The re-release of George Lucas' mighty epic triptych has zoomed out a new generation of Skywalkers faster than a MillFalcon in (kofff! sp-p-putter!) hyperspace. Take your offspring (and their latest chunk of allowance) to Hog Wild and go hogwild over the great selection of classic and modern Star Wars-ana. Tons of other classic universes (Star Trek, Major Matt Mason, Battle Star Galactica, etc.) explored, too.

100 E. North Loop, 467-9453

Best Pre-school Kids Herb Garden

Ronda Dizney believes in getting kids into the garden early and the principles of organic gardening dovetail perfectly with the Montessori curriculum (ask her how). All year long, the students (age 2 1/2 to 5) in her small pre-school tend their own little garden plots, planting, watering, weeding and harvesting the crops they've decided to grow. We've bought their lovely organic basil at Sun Harvest's south location and are very grateful Dizney's training the next generation of organic gardeners to help feed the planet.

4300 Mount Vernon, 707-8635

Best Rockin' Summer Camp

Hey, kids, wanna play in a band this summer? Michele Murphy's Natural Ear Music Camp sounds way cooler than the boring marching band practice we remember from junior high. During two three-week sessions each summer, kids ages 8-18 work in groups of 6 at the Austin Rehearsal Complex learning to play guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. They choose three songs to learn and play them in a graduation ceremony at a local music venue. Murphy says she teaches "to the natural music sense," encouraging students "to find the groove." The budding rockers pronounced it "cool." Our favorite line in the brochure says they "welcome beginners and show-offs."

1109-B S. Congress, 443-5522, [email protected]

Best Rollin' Summer Camp

The members of La Pena designed a very creative solution to two of their biggest challenges, finding paying work for artists and providing enriching summer camp activities for children who could not afford traditional camps. They found grant money to pay local artists with skills in a variety of media to be arts camp instructors and took camp to the kids. Youngsters in the predominately Hispanic Meadowbrook and Fairview Housing projects received professional instruction and had loads of fun in the process. Andale!

La Peña
227 Congress #300, 512/236-0610
227 Congress, 512/477-6007

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