Julie Hanauer-Milne’s family is luckier than most. They live in Waterville, right down the road from Messalonskee Lake, where they can cool off on sultry summer afternoons.

Still, there are times when Hanauer-Milne’s two boys, 10-year-old Nathan and 12-year-old Noah, would rather splash in water at home than head to the lake or the ocean.

“Yesterday it was blistering hot here,” Hanauer-Milne said during one of Maine’s recent hot spells. “We live on top of this ridge that gets these beautiful breezes all year round, and so it’s often not as hot up here as it is at other places. But even yesterday it was blistering hot here, and they didn’t want to go down to the water.”

So the boys started a major family water fight with their weapons of choice: water guns and plain old buckets of water, expertly aimed at their parents.

Backyard water toys are a classic way to keep kids occupied and having fun during sweltering summers. Baby boomers probably remember playing for hours in dad’s sprinkler while it watered the lawn, and back then Slip ‘N Slides seemed almost high tech.

Boy, have things changed. Now there are water sprinklers made especially for kids, with characters like Spiderman and Hello Kitty, and they have special jets and spraying action.

Water slides have become inflatable imitations of the big ones used in water parks.

Water guns — remember when they were called squirt guns? — now have pump action and would look comfortable in the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Richard Gottlieb, a toy industry commentator who heads Global Toy Experts in New York and publishes a newsletter on the toy industry, said it seems as if stores in the Northeast still have a lot of water slides and water guns in their inventory this year. This could simply be because it hasn’t gotten hot enough yet for parents to head to the toy store, “but it looks slow to me.”

“In addition to that, it appears that anything related to guns has slowed down,” Gottlieb said. “It looks like water guns — in fact guns of all kinds — have kind of peaked. These things tend to run in trends. You have five-year-long cycles. So it looks like that’s happening.”

On the other hand, Gottlieb said, bubble products are doing well.

Kirsten Halloran, a spokeswoman for Target, says that sales of water toys in general have been “great” this year in their stores around the country, especially during the warmer weather that hit a lot of areas in March and April.

Top sellers include items such as the relatively tame Banzai Swim N Splash Giraffe Pool ($29.99), which looks like it has a giraffe lying in it, and the much more intense-sounding Max Liquidator Eliminator water gun ($9.99) and Nerf Super Soaker Tornado Strike ($19.99).

For very young children, there are new products like the Sandy Lagoon Waterpark ($49.99) from Little Tikes, a miniature water park aimed at toddlers age 2 and up that holds up to 4 gallons of water and 50 pounds of sand. It has two water slides, two diving boards, floating inner tubes for the little characters and (of course) a dump bucket.

Susan Hale, a spokeswoman for MGA Entertainment, the company that owns Little Tikes, said that the waterpark has been especially popular this year. The company’s most popular water slide is the inflatable “Rocky Mountain River Race” ($529.99), which can handle up to four children at once.

While flat water slides are still available — and less expensive — inflatable water slides that hook up to a simple garden hose and look like the bouncy houses popular at children’s birthday parties are becoming more popular. Many of them, like the Rocky Mountain River Race, have features like “rock” climbing walls and dual water slides.

Kohl’s added two new inflatable water slides this year. One, the Blast Zone Buccaneer ($599), is a pirate slide that has a pool and a pirate cannon that kids can actually “fire.”

Party rental places have started renting the bigger inflatable water slides. They’re popular at birthday parties, says Rebekah Godek of Blast Party Rentals in Eliot, and sometimes families chip in and rent one for a block party or other neighborhood gathering. (Adults can play on some of them too.)

“During the summer, I think we New Englanders really appreciate our hot weather, and we really want to have fun,” Godek said. “So people tend to splurge a little bit and have a great party at their house.”

All the slides have built-in misting systems and hook up to a regular garden hose. Some have splash pools at the bottom, others end like a Slip ‘N Slide.

Blast Party Rentals just bought the mother of all inflatable water slides to rent out this summer. The rental fee for the Roaring River Waterslide is a whopping $745, but just look at the dimensions on this thing: It’s 65 feet long and 27 feet high.

“It’s huge,” Godek said. “The whole unit weighs about 900 pounds, and that’s before it gets a drop of water on it.”

Set up, take-down and a safety inspection are all part of the rental price. Godek said it’s important, no matter where you’re renting from, to ask about insurance and inspections when renting any inflatable slides. Maine requires all inflatable rides to be inspected, she said, and issued a permit from the state Fire Marshall’s office.

Godek has tried the Roaring River inflatable, which she says has a particularly steep slide.

“It’s not just like a playground slide,” she said. “It’s definitely steep, but it has some really good safety features. The netting at the top does not allow people to stand up, so they have to be seated when they slide down. It has a bumper between the two lanes.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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