My daughter has an obsession with Shopkins. She loves those teeny, tiny hunks of plastic shaped like shoes, pieces of chocolate cake or lawnmowers, each with a set of eyes, a sassy name and a gateway for her imagination to create little stories for them all. I walk into her room to find them all over her floor as she proceeds to make up elaborate stories about all of them. Each one has its own personality, friends and activities according to her mood and I think it’s adorable.
Of course, the reason I find this type of play so cute is because it was my favorite type of play as a kid as well. My little sister is seven years younger than me, so for a good part of the time I spent sprawled out on our bedroom floor (we shared a room from the moment she was born until I was 13), she really wasn’t able to play with me. By the time she was really into Barbies, I was leaving mine behind. While my daughter is lucky enough to have a playmate a bit closer to her age, my son, who is 10, is not always so keen on playing Shopkins with her. He’d rather be building Legos or setting up elaborate mazes for his cars to run through. But, like me, she spends a lot of her play time sprawled out on her bedroom rug creating lives for tiny little toys.
That’s the second reason I find this play so adorable: not only do we share a love for making up elaborate stories for our toys, we also share a love for building our stories around tiny little anthropomorphic ones. For her it is Shopkins, but for me it was Charmkins.
Any other children of the 80’s remember Charmkins? They were my LIFE! I had so many of them and I loved each and every one. For those of you who might have forgotten (or are not quite old enough to remember), they are tiny little plastic people and animals who have small loops, usually at the tops of their heads, which connect to pieces of jewelry like necklaces, rings, barrettes, bobby pins and headbands. Any Charmkin could fit into any piece of jewelry, so you could mix and match them.
Not only did they have fun pieces of plastic jewelry for me to wear, but they also had play sets. There were two different Charmkin houses. My picture at the top of this post is of the windmill house which not only has tiny furniture, but a flower petal windmill with tiny pegs that the Charmkins attach to and can spin round and round on. To the left of this paragraph is a picture of the Charmkin jewelry case which opens to reveal a little garden scene for the toys to “play” in. Although it’s hard to tell, there are tiny pegs on the floor of the garden where the people and animals can be fixed into place. There were also lots of pieces of jewelry that were sold separately. There were charm necklaces and clip on earrings and tons of hair accessories like the ones in the picture. There were also even smaller play sets that were square and had a little handle. When you opened them up, they had a little sticker scene and one single Charmkin in them, like my favorite Charmkin, Lady Slipper. I was taking ballet lessons when I got this one and loved everything about her from her flower crown to her teeny tiny toe shoes. I also thought the little heart-shaped flowers surrounding her were amazing. Plus, in the background of her little scene was the windmill house which was at the center of most of my play time.
On top of being adorable and fashionable, Charmkins also smelled heavenly. Yes, that’s right, it was not enough for them to have one gimmick. They had to have two. They were flower-scented. I could never really tell one scent from the other and I’m not sure if they were supposed to have distinct scents or not. To me they all sort of smell like lilies, which happens to be my favorite flower. Or at least they did smell like lilies. Now, Lady Slipper is really the only one that still smells vaguely of flowers. Every time my daughter pops open her little play set, I get a whiff of my childhood.
As cool as these toys were to play with at home, I LOVED the fact that I could also wear them places, so I always had a good reason to have a toy on me. That’s right, I wore my “jewelry” to school and then when it was recess, I played with my Charmkins. Well, up until the day that I lost Li’l Tulip on the playground. I was prancing around the playground with her on my finger and all of a sudden she wasn’t there. I had a sob fest when I realized she was missing, but thankfully one of the recess monitors took pity on me and helped me look for her. Thankfully we found her and I never wore her to school again.
Although I no longer play with my Charmkins, I am so glad I have them. Last year when I saw my daughter’s love for Shopkins, I pulled my Charmkins out of the closet and brought them out to show her. She was completely enraptured by them. While they still don’t get to go into the bottomless toy pit that is her room, when she asks nicely, I get them down from the closet for her (I keep them on the top shelf and even with her step stool she can’t reach them on her own) and let her play with them at the dining room table. She did loose my Baby Sunshine doll. At first I was sad, but then I took a breath and realized the entire reason I kept them was so that she could play with them. It’s fun watching my daughter fall in love with the same toy that captivated me.