Cute Collectibles: Making a Heart Connection

Are you the kind of person who goes wild over collectible figures? About four years ago, I used to buy Squinkies for my second and third grade students as rewards. They loved Squinkies! What are Squinkies? Tiny collectible figures by Blip Toys based on themes (like the ocean; aliens and space; animals). But one day the stores stopped selling them. My students used to ask about Squinkies, but I had no idea why they disappeared. Was that the end of their story? Read on.

In the last couple of years Shopkins have racked up mega sales in the toy section. What are Shopkins? Tiny collectible figures by Moose Toys. I’ve shown a photo of some of them on this blog before. There are hundreds to collect, in categories like common, rare, ultra rare, and limited edition (quite difficult to find).



So is it any wonder that this year, Squinkies are back with a reboot and categories very similar to the Shopkins categories? Success breeds competition in the battle for the attention of children (and the shrinking wallets of their parents)! I don’t own any of the new Squinkies, but you can click here to find out more information if you’re curious.

If you’re a parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle, maybe you’re cringing right now, as you imagine your child/grandchild/niece/nephew demanding toys like this. Or perhaps you remember a painful moment when you accidentally stepped on something like this—tiny but made of hard plastic—in the middle of the night. If so, you might wish to skip to the end, where I talk about writing. (There. There. It will be okay.)

Squinkies and Shopkins aren’t the only small collectible figures in town. There are also Num Noms by MGA.


Each of these (with the exception of the pink motorized one under the brown choco swirl on the right) is a little over an inch tall.

I’m not exactly sure what they are, besides small collectible figures. They’re scented though. One smells like chocolate cherry, while others smells like caramel and strawberry.

And then there are the erasers by Iwako. A friend sent a bunch to me from These are just a few:


These also are a little over an inch tall.

And there is the queen of small collectible figures: Hello Kitty by Sanrio.


She’s about a quarter of an inch taller than the Iwako erasers.

And then there are these: My Mini MixieQ’s by Mattel, which debuted this year at the Toy Fair in New York. So far, the only comment I’ve heard about them is a consistent one: “Awwwww. They’re so cuuuuuuute.”


These figures are about three-quarters of an inch tall.

And there are dozens more. But I know what you’re thinking: These seem awfully girl-centric (though I know some boys who like Shopkins and some girls who hate this sort of thing). What about stuff for boys? Well, there are Star Wars Micro Machines and tons of other Star Wars figures (Hasbro), Five Nights at Freddy’s figures (Funko), Hot Wheels (Mattel), DC and Marvel action figures (Mattel and Hasbro respectively), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys), Minecraft (Mattel), and dozens of other collectible figures. (Girls like these too.)

Star-Wars-Micro-Machines-Blind-Bag_b2 minecraft-steve-zombie-creeper-enderman-set-of-4-figures_3449_500

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ll tell you my reason for paying attention to toy trends (besides liking them). Toy manufacturers know what appeals to the soul of a kid; for example, the desire to nurture or to be on an adventure. I once held up one of the Shopkins while talking to someone and soon had several people (kids and adults) crowded around me with sparkling eyes. This is the kind of rapt attention you want if you’re writing for kids, teens, or adults—the kind of attention that means you’ve made a heart connection.

Granted, translating this connection to the printed page is a challenge. Yet authors like J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan have met the challenge. (So it is possible.) But they connected to what was in their own hearts first, instead of attempting to guess what might appeal to a kid. For example, Riordan loved his son and wanted to write about a kid with dyslexia and ADHD like his son. He was also a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, having taught these stories to middle schoolers for years. Thus, Percy Jackson and other series were born. Rowling’s mom died. Writing Harry Potter was her way of dealing with her own grief. She also loved The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which combines fantasy and reality as does the Harry Potter series.

unademagiaporfavor-new-releases-children-book-young-adrult-august-2013-scholastic-new-edition-Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-rowling-cover-kazu-kibuishi  28187


What do you love? How does that translate to what you’re writing now?

Book covers from Goodreads. Minecraft toy from Star Wars Micro Machine blind bags from action

30 thoughts on “Cute Collectibles: Making a Heart Connection

  1. I know people who collect little things like that. Specifically, the tsum tsums that Disney puts out. These friends go crazy over these tiny plushies. Not to mention you have all those figurines that are used for video games now. I think the concept of collecting a set has seeped into a lot more markets than when I was a kid. You had action figures and comics, but now you have it in so many other areas. As far as books go, I think giving kids what they want in a story (i.e. making the main character like them) works toward escapism. In my opinion, a very good thing that doesn’t get as much credit as it used to. It’s funny with fantasy though. Technically, my target would be teenagers since the characters are around that age and they are doing a search for identity. Yet, I find myself aiming more for older people because I’m told the darker themes in later books are not for ‘kids’ and it feels like not as many teenagers read as they did when I was that age. At the very least, not fantasy.

    • I meant to mention the tsum tsums. Glad you mentioned them. My niece plays a tsum tsum game on her phone. She said a lot of college students are into tsum tsums. And amiibo too. Forgot about those.

      I think adults underestimate what teens can handle. A ton of them watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, so they’ve seen dark. But I know what you mean. A lot are playing videogames or watching YouTube. But many are still reading.

      • It’s amazing how people will toss money into tsum tsums and amiibos while struggling to pay bills. I can’t talk because of my comic book collecting days, but I quit when it was between a new Deadpool comic and diapers for the baby.

        The question is: what are they reading? Will teens wander the aisles of a library or search Amazon for indies? If people are only reading the popular ones then a lot of authors will get left in the dirt.

      • My niece brings home armloads of books from the library. She loves fantasy. She has a Kindle so she downloads books.

        I’ll see three teens tonight at dinner, so I’ll take a poll and see what they’re reading.

        Those amiibos aren’t cheap! I don’t own any of them though I could use them on my DS.

      • Same here. Still working with old systems and I’ve recently learned that I get motion sickness from most 3D games. All I can play are fighters and 2D ones now.

  2. Oh gosh, the pain of stepping on a Lego when you’re barefoot. I did that one too many times, L. Marie. Your little fellas would be much more comfortable.
    Lately, I’ve been collecting photographs of mountains, rivers and lakes in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, since those are my preferred settings.

    • I have stepped on LEGO bricks, toy soldiers, and other tiny things. They hurt!!
      Glad you’re doing that, Jill. You probably have a lot of great images to use for book covers. 🙂

  3. I think I told you about our experience with Shopkins, when all of the children in my daughter’s class came together in anguish for our poor, deprived Millie?

  4. Oh, the little bits of children’s joy that I have stepped upon! Ouch! I still think they are cute,though, and kids can manipulate them, have them for friends with their friends. The grands, a boy and a girl, play with each other’s toys. Kezzie can build a bridge (with a schematic plan first) over an ottoman and into a lake (pan of water) while Ezra has fun with all the little people toys, though Joseph driving Mary and the baby Jesus in his steam shovel was, well, I guess it was rather miraculous. What fun!
    I don’t collect these toys, but, I do collect buttons; the older, the better. I like the way they feel and look. I don’t sew – notoriously don’t sew. Poor Katy had her Brownie badges stapled onto her sash. I can imagine myself making all sorts of costumes and dresses and such with my buttons, which is what I think children do with their cute collectibles.
    My writing, such as it is, is more on the dirty side – garden dirt, that is. 🙂

    • Ha ha! I love that Ezra had Joseph driving Mary and baby Jesus in a steam shovel. So cute!
      I’m glad your writing revolves around garden dirt. I love your reflections, Penny.

      I also collect buttons to use on various projects. Buttons are wonderful! I’ve seen so many beautiful ones.

      The four-year-old son of a friend loves Star Wars, so he’s constantly having pod races. What’s interesting is that he’s never seen any of the movies.

      • So cute – your friend’s son and Star Wars. We should all retain some of that child in us.
        There used to be a store downtown, just off Michigan Ave., maybe on north State. Very small and narrow, I would go in there once or twice a year. It was called Tender Buttons and had button boxes from floor to ceiling, of every color and size and shape with vintage and antique buttons in cases. I bought a few bigger buttons over time and converted them into pins. It was fun to look at the buttons, but, even more fun to “people watch” the serious customers who were seamstresses and costume designers. I shed a tear when they closed.

      • I’m always sorry when stores like that close, Penny. It’s like the end of an era. Good buttons are so hard to find! The fabric stores only have so many.

  5. And don’t forget all the LEGO minifigure collectible series, that now include Disney and The Simpsons (neither of which I’ve collected). I’m pretty selective in my LEGO minifig collectibles, only choosing those figures that fit into my town and trading the others.

  6. My days of collecting “dust collectors” are behind me, Linda ~ I used to collect Santas and zebras. Then, as nieces and nephews arrived, grew, and fell in love with my collection, I gave the dust collectors to them.

    For the most part. I kept a few. 😉

  7. Thanks for the insight into your minicollectible collection evolution. I’m thinking your students enabled the need for you to collect! Blame it on the kids and their Squinkies-collecting! HA!

    That second photo of which you’re not sure what those small collectible figures actually are…I’m thinking they might be the scoops of ice cream that go ontop of an ice cream cone, especially since you said they have scent…Just a thought.

    • You’re probably right, Laura, about my students enabling and the ice cream scoops. That makes sense, seeing as how the set came with a little dish and a spoon. 🙂
      How goes your music? Are you done recording or is this still ongoing?

      • Thanks for asking. I’m not done with recording, but it is on the backburner now that I’m spending the summer going back and forth from SC to CO to be with Dad. Next visit will be sometime mid-July for 2 weeks.

  8. My sister and I collected “storybook dolls,” Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc. They were 5 or 6 inches tall–beautiful faces, hair and dresses. Our dad built a display shelf for them. I don’t think I’ve had any collection since. My grandson had an impressive collection of little cars. Then he graduated to Lego, which has an infinite number of sets–Ninjago, Star Wars, etc.

    Maybe kids love these little collectibles because they desire to possess something cute and because they’re the “in” thing with their friends. Translating that to books reminds us about the power of marketing.

  9. Ah, so that’s why Mc Donald’s put the little plastic toys in their Happy Meals 😉

    “But they connected to what was in their own hearts first, instead of attempting to guess what might appeal to a kid.”

    I find this encouraging. I heard an author say she writes for people like her. This statement has freed me from “guessing” what the reader may like. I assume, they would like what I like …

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