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Parents toy-shopping with added caution

"Get this, mommy," said Thalia, 2, on a recent morning at a Target in Brooklyn, N.Y., as she handed her mother, Liz Gumbinner, a plastic horse made by the Schleich company.

"We have a lot of these; they're made in Germany," Gumbinner said, then checked a white sticker on the hoof and shook her head. "No, it's made in China. I've been misled by the German name."

With more than 20 million toys made in China recalled for lead paint and other hazards this summer - and some children being hospitalized after swallowing the magnets of recalled toys - many more parents are looking carefully at what they buy and where it comes from. But it is not easy to find many exceptions to the rule that most toys come from China.

Gumbinner pulled a package of Lincoln Logs off a shelf. "If these are made in China, I'll be upset," she said. "No, China. I was holding out hope that something called 'Lincoln' would be American."

As the holiday season nears, parents are waiting for Barbie's other plastic shoe to drop. When a Mattel toy is recalled for having lead paint, should they avoid just that toy, or all Mattel toys, or all painted toys from China, or all toys from China? Or, since Mattel acknowledged recently that the problem with loose magnets is not the manufacturing process but Mattel's domestic design, is anxiety toward China misdirected?

"Nobody wants to be a paranoid parent," said Gumbinner, 39, of Brooklyn Heights, who works as a creative director for an advertising agency based in Los Angeles and is a cofounder of the website coolmompicks.com. "I mean, where do you draw the line between cautionary and crazy?"

Other than purging the toy chest of all recalled products, many parents are at a loss. The steady drumbeat of recalls over the last three months has led some parents to wonder whether it is just a matter of time before more of their children's playthings will be found hazardous.

In the absence of hard and fast rules, the range of reactions has been mixed. Some parents are shrugging off the potential danger as remote or unavoidable. Others are going out of their way to avoid anything even faintly suspicious.

Among the signs that concerns are escalating: Pediatricians and health centers report that more parents are bringing in their children for lead tests, which doctors say is never a bad idea.

From June, when the first Thomas the Tank Engine lead-paint recall was issued, through August, the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, for example, conducted 3,046 lead tests, an increase of 81 percent from the 1,684 in the same period last year.

And some parents are testing their children's toys themselves. Sales of a First Alert home lead test are up 900 percent over last year, according to the firm. Last week the product was the 17th best seller in the home improvement category on Amazon.com, although some safety experts say that home tests are unreliable.

In an effort to offer some guideposts for parents, retailers like F.A.O. Schwarz are highlighting countries of origin of their merchandise. EBay, where used toys that have been recalled occasionally pop up for sale, recently began directing bidders to recall lists.

Some people are thinking twice before buying used toys.

"My girlfriends and I are concerned about going to garage sales, and people are actually staying away," said Beth Blecherman of Menlo Park, Calif., who helps run a blog called Silicon Valley Moms. "You hope that toys in stores have been vetted, but how do you know if something you get at a garage sale has been recalled?"

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