Santa might not need such a big toy sack this Christmas. It appears the hot holiday toys are shrinking.

The gotta-have toy of Christmas 2000 was the Razor Scooter, a toy big enough to stand on. In 2005, the hot Christmas toy was the Xbox 360, a substantial video game set. In 2006, parents scoured stores for the $40 TMX Elmo doll, in the standard Muppet size.

Last year, the hottest holiday toys by far were Zhu Zhu Pets, small in both stature and price. They were the size of hamsters, and priced under $10.

This year’s hottest Christmas toy is microscopic by comparison – little pencil toppers and erasers that can sell for less than $1.

Erasers? Really?

“Those erasers and pencil toppers have been ridiculously popular for a while, and will continue to be,” said Alison Tostevin, manager of Treehouse Toys on Exchange Street in Portland. “Little things that kids can collect are big right now. It’s always a wonder how things catch on.”

Many of the pencil toppers that hit stores earlier this fall are imported from Japan. But for the Christmas season, one of the hottest-selling brands is Squinkies, made by Blip Toys in Minnesota.

A play set called Squinkies Cupcake Surprise Bake Shop ($21.99) made the Toys “R” Us “Fabulous 15” list of the best new toys for the 2010 holiday season.

The appeal of Squinkies and other pencil toppers includes a low price (less than $1 apiece, or $9.99 for a set of 16), and the fact that kids can collect them all, name them and trade them with friends. Some are animals or little characters; others come apart or have tiny accessories.

Plus, they come in little plastic bubbles, like something from a vending machine – and what kid doesn’t want something from a vending machine?

For manufacturers, the most important factor may be that the market for small, collectible toys has been building since last Christmas, when Zhu Zhu pets caused a frenzy. The Silly Bandz craze hit in the spring, with youngsters buying, wearing and trading hundreds of funny-shaped rubber bands.

“The area of collectible toys is really the hot thing right now, and what’s appealing about them is that they give gift-givers a lot of options, from just one to a set of maybe 50,” said Adrienne Giordano, a spokeswoman for Toys “R” Us in New York. (Toys “R” Us stores in Maine referred all calls to New York.)

Another collectible toy on the Toys “R” Us list this year is Sing-A-Ma-Jigs by Fisher-Price. They are interactive singing animals that sing together, with a starting price under $10.

There’s also a very traditional toy on the hot list this holiday season: toy trains.

A sleek new electric train, the Tomica Hypercity Mega Station Set ($79.99), is a big seller, but train sets of all kinds are hot at independent toy stores in southern Maine.

Those stores, which focus more on traditional toys than the newest or hottest items, say the Christmas season also has brought a lot of interest in wooden blocks, Lego building sets, science experiment kits and sets of animals named Calico Critters, which live in a house. (Calico Critters also made the Toys “R” Us hot list.)

“I think wood blocks have been bigger this year, maybe because people are looking for value, for something long-lasting,” said Julie Steinbach, owner of Rainbow Toys on Route 1 in Falmouth. “People seem to want something meaningful and good quality.”

In the last week or so, Steinbach has seen a lot of interest in Green Toys, a company that makes kitchen play sets and tea sets from recycled milk jugs. She said traditional imaginative toys such as Legos, Playmobil sets and Scientific Explorers science kits also are selling well this year.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in who have put a lot of thought into what they want – something that will engage their kids, and not just the hot new thing,” she said.


Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]