What's this year's hottest item for the back-to-school season? According to some big retailers, it's luggage.

Well, not exactly luggage, but backpacks on wheels with long pull-out handles that resemble those carry-on bags common at airports. The backpacks range in price from $19.99 to $24.99, with the more expensive ones decorated with logos or characters.

"It's a really popular item right now," said Christina Jara, the children's department manager at Mervyn's in Glendale.

Jara believes the item is so popular because children today are getting more homework, which means they have to schlep more books between home and school. Advertisements for the backpacks suggest that because they are pulled instead of slung over the shoulder, they are better for health reasons. Whether that's true or not, it's definitely easier to wheel around a heavy pack full of books than it is to carry it.

Jara isn't sure whether the sales spike is being driven by parents or by their children. But "as long as they are decorated with (cartoon) characters, they are doing quite well."

Young girls, in particular, are buying the "Power Puff Girls" backpacks, which feature characters from a popular cable cartoon show.

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