Gift Ideas for an 11-Year-Old Girl

The twins had their 11th birthdays recently, so I am going to do twin posts on their gifts. I’ll start with Elizabeth’s.

Probably her top favorite gift was from my parents: a snail aquarium set-up, which she’d wanted ever since she brought home a snail in a 2-liter-bottle-based terrarium from school:

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The sharp-eyed among you will be observing that this is not a snail aquarium but is in fact a betta fish aquarium. This is what the Surprisingly Knowledgeable About Snails clerk at the pet store recommended to me when I did preliminary research on this idea, since there is not really any such thing as a snail aquarium, since there is an almost imperceptible demand for snails as pets. My parents also included a certificate saying she could choose a bag of aquarium pebbles, some decorative thingies, and two more snail friends for her snail.


Her second favorite gift was probably this pink bunny suit for her cat:

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The cat is about 11 pounds so I ordered a large, but I think extra-large would have been even better. One funny thing is that after initially resisting (i.e., refusing to move, so that he looked and felt even more like a living stuffed animal), the cat turned out to LIKE the suit. He seems to find it comforting.

Edited to add: OKAY FINE, here are pictures of her cat in the suit!

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I realize he does not seem to be Radiating Joy in this photo, but cats almost always look crabby in photos, and this particular cat doesn’t really want anyone except Elizabeth to come within 10 feet.

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Here he is having dinner in his bunny suit.


Elizabeth is crazy about Digibirds right now, and they are cute but annoying: they sing together, and they tilt their heads back and forth adorably, and they make sweet realistic chirping sounds—but they cue each other to sing by emitting an annoying series of electronic tones. Well, she loves them, so I bought her a set of two more birds and a cute perch:

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At her school they have optional activities they can sign up for at recess: playing guitar, doing watercolors, doing crossword puzzles, playing basketball, having a book club, etc. She signed up for sopranino recorder and really liked it, so we got her one of her own:

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It’s tiny and adorable: about as much smaller than the soprano recorder as the soprano is smaller than the alto.

Her last present is a little odd. Quite awhile ago, like last fall, I was looking on the West Elm website and we saw a WALRUS tray and a WALRUS pillow and she flipped for them. I ordered them both, and then neither of them arrived, and then eventually I saw a refund on my credit card for the pillow, and then the tray showed up, and then my credit card was re-charged for the pillow, and then a refund was again issued, and that happened FOUR TIMES until I finally contacted the company and they said “Oops, sorry, the pillow is no longer available and there was apparently a glitch”—and then literally MONTHS AND MONTHS LATER, like about SIX months later, the pillow showed up. It was bizarre. Meanwhile Christmas had come and gone and I hadn’t given her the tray because it suddenly seemed like a weird gift for a child, especially without its companion pillow.

ANYWAY. I gave her the tray AND the pillow for her birthday. Neither one is available any more, but here is a picture of the tray, and the pillow has the same picture on it:

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I also bought a plate hanger (like this kind of thing) for the tray so she can hang it on her wall, since she is not yet at the age to serve canapes to friends.


Edited to add: It occurred to me that since this is a list of IDEAS rather than just a report of what a particular girl got for her particular birthday, I can extend this post to include things we considered getting her.

One thing she really wanted was a fancy manicure. She’s been watching videos on YouTube about nail art. But…she is 11, and her nail polish still gets chipped after five minutes. And I had no idea how much such a thing would cost, but “a lot more than she thinks it will” seemed likely, so we didn’t go with this.

We were planning instead to buy her a bunch of nail stuff: nail stencils, nail stickers, nail sponges, the nail goop that gets painted around the nail so that mistakes peel right off—but you’ll notice I’m not even linking to examples, because I got overwhelmed by options and couldn’t figure out what was right. I’d find a stencil set that looked pretty okay—and it would be A DOLLAR PER NAIL to use the stupid things. And all the stencils and stickers looked like they were for long grown-woman nails, not tiny little girl nails. Plus, about a week before her birthday, against parental advice (because it is a poor idea to buy things for oneself so close to one’s birthday), Elizabeth used her own money to buy a $5 Lisa Frank kit that seemed way more perfect than anything I’d been looking at:

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It has child-sized stickers, and a dotting tool that has proved hugely successful.


Another thing she wanted was a wooden xylophone. She has a metal one (this one—it’s more than a toy, but less than a million dollars) and uses it a lot. But I looked into it, and they were all either too expensive or they were basically toys. This is the only one that was a possibility:

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But it was nearly a hundred dollars (and, annoyingly, about $80 when I first looked at it and up to nearly $100 the very next day), so it would not fit in the gift budget unless I did one of the things I sometimes do, where for example I only charge the gift budget $13 for an $18 t-shirt since the child’s wardrobe is increasing by a t-shirt I would have bought for $5. Or, I mean, once Rob asked for an ALGEBRA WORKBOOK for his birthday, and that is the sort of thing I would ABSOLUTELY just buy for a child, so I didn’t count it toward his birthday budget at all.

I called in my musical brother to assist, and he evaluated the situation more thoroughly than I was willing to, and concluded that the trouble with wooden xylophones is that they were either inexpensive toys or HUGELY EXPENSIVE GLOCKENSPIELS. I decided that since Elizabeth is going to middle school next year, she can try out the school’s H.E.G. and see what she thinks.


Lastly, we considered glow-in-the-dark stars:

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We have a place in town where people can drop off stuff they don’t want and other people can take anything they want for free, and she’d recently obtained from there a small pack of glow-in-the-dark stars. She really, really liked them and wanted more—but I felt they were most likely a passing interest, and also she already had some, and also I am already dreading what they’ll do to the walls/ceiling when we peel them off.

16 thoughts on “Gift Ideas for an 11-Year-Old Girl

  1. Suzanne

    I feel an almost unbearable desire to see Elizabeth’s cat inthat sweater. It is so unbearable I am forcing myself not to use all caps for this entire comment.

        1. Suzanne

          THANK YOU!!!!! So worth it!!! The eating his dinner photo is really amazing. I am now anticipating that you will need to buy him many sweaters, in many colors, and possibly a nice suit for special occasions.

  2. StephLove

    My daughter, who’s a year younger than Elizabeth, had snails, too. She brought two home from school last fall after a science unit on them, and then one died and we bought her two more for her birthday in March at her request and then all three died. The two pet store ones lasted less than two months. I keep worrying we did something wrong and killed them. And of course, she wants more. We’re putting her off for the moment so if you have keeping-snails-alive wisdom to impart, please do! The ones from school were actually hardier. The longer-lived one lasted six or seven months from the time she brought them home and it had been at school a month or two before that.

  3. vanessa

    i love your gift posts and have for years. and i also REALLY NEED to see E’s cat in the bunny suit. I can’t believe the cat let her do it. My dog is 14 and a half, cannot run/can barely walk, all her teeth are broken, and I’m pretty sure she’d kill me if I tried to put her in a suit of any kind.

  4. Alison

    Love the bunny suit. Our cat freezes too when dressed up. Eventually he’ll start walking carefully backwards, like maybe he can reverse out of the hated costume.

  5. Megan

    I bought that exact glow in the dark star set for my toddler’s room. He LOVES them. Just wanted to give you a heads up that they are NOT a nightmare to get off…this set is hard plastic stars, and comes with that sticky tack stuff to hold them up. Haven’t had any issues with them yet, and it’s been over a year :)

  6. Dr. Maureen

    Where did she find the Lisa Frank nail set? I see, of course, that you have a link, but I want to suggest it to Jack or AM to buy for N for her birthday, and it would be much simpler if we could go to a store. Plus I only have till Friday. SO QUICK, REPLY TO ME.

    1. Swistle Post author

      Ha ha! We found it at Toys R Us. I am not positive it was the exact one I have in the picture, but it had stickers, nail polishes, and a dotting tool, and it was $4.99.

  7. Matti

    Thank you!!!!! Also, the cat is up and eating in that bunny suit. Only a cat that liked it would do that. There. Totally rationalized more outfits for the cat.

  8. Emma

    Yes, cats do find wearing shirts comforting. Look up the ‘thunder shirt’ and you’ll see why. They do panic at first and stay still but they come to like the pressure. It feels like a hug.

  9. KeraLinnea

    I’ll be the killjoy…Obviously, it’s different in this situation, because I know that Swistle and her parents communicate well with each other, but I strongly recommend that one never give living creatures as gifts.

    I wouldn’t have said anything, but since this is presented as a list of ideas for gifts, I thought it was appropriate to remind people that pets are not presents. Please don’t give an animal to a child unless the parents have told you that they are ready and willing to take on the responsibility.

    Sorry to be uptight, but I’ve known too many kids who’ve killed (accidentally, or through benign neglect, not cruelty) animals they weren’t prepared to care for.

  10. Monique

    A fun idea for her nails, and yours, is Jamberry nail slicks. I have used the on all my nails, on accent nails, and over coordinating polish – be sure to use quality nail polish or they will peel right off. They have children sizes with coordinating adult sets, or she can use the smallest adult sizes to coordinate with yours. You may be able to find a local consultant to get a demo, but they are really easy to use, and not terribly expensive.

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