I remember sitting on a guest bed in my grandparents’ home on a sultry summer day. Laid out before me on the mattress was, what seemed to my childhood perception, a vast menagerie of glossy, ceramic animals. Tiny little creatures that arrived at my grandparents home by way of the tea box. Their finely painted features made them irresistible to small children and utterly collectible.
When I recall those hazy afternoons the painted features appear less than delicately applied, particularly when I compare my childhood memories with the present reality of my daughter’s plastic Schleich animal figurines. The adult animals are much larger than the tiny critters I longed to possess, but their offspring and the smaller animals are tiny enough to evoke and call up my long lost ceramic friends.
Originally founded in Germany in 1935 to produce protective clothing and safety glances, they made the transition to plastic toys in the ‘50s. I think their true calling was realized with the introduction of their detailed, realistic animal figurines in the ‘80s. Each plastic animal is carefully designed with children in mind.
They feel good in the hand, are stable on their feet, and are so authentic that they seem to be micro-counterparts to their living models. My children are now able to engage with animals they wouldn’t normally encounter up close and personal; repeating their examinations of posture, markings, and even footpads whenever their fancy arises.
Even better, many of the animals are available in family sets. Father, mother and offspring – how can any child resist pulling together family groupings? My own children like to pull out their growing collection and set all of the ‘babies’ together, ‘mommies’ to one side, ‘daddies’ on the other. Animals on parade is another common theme, and all manner of imaginative storylines are enacted with their wide cast of characters.
Our family adores natural playthings, only allowing a limited number of plastic toys into our home. That being said, we seek out Schleich’s animal figurines for birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but these toys are so charming I might purchase them for, ahem, display and collection purposes myself.
With over 500 figurines and accessories in their current catalogue, Schleich continues to prune, upgrade and add to their extensive offerings. A number of figurines are being discontinued this Spring. In the “Forest Animals” line, for example, the rabbit and eagle owl are being retired this May, but an inquisitive raccoon will be joining the ranks.
The latest additions to our family’s collection are representative of Canadian wildlife: deer, polar bear, moose, fox, squirrel and a black bear cub. The hedgehog and gnu (new in January) seem somewhat out of place, but “hedgie” helps out in their reenactments of Jan Brett’s The Mitten.
In addition to their world-renowned animal figurines, Schleich continues to produce the Smurf figurines (originally introduced in the ‘60s), elaborate fantasy figurines, figures from the American frontier, knights, and farm-folk. Most of the hand-painted animals are not to scale, though relative sizes are maintained in general, and particularly within family groupings.
Several lines of scaled animals ranging from dogs to dinosaurs are also available, though they can be tricky to find in-store. In November of 2008 Schleich acquired the rights to the award-winning Noah’s Pals toy collection – I can’t wait to see the results hit toy shelves.
So step away from those cheap, plastic animals; Schleich is the best show in town. You shouldn’t have to go far to find them, they’re available widely online, at major toy retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us. Even if you live in the rural boonielands like I do, you might be surprised to find Schleich’s animals widely available. We’ve purchased them at the local farmers co-op, feed store, and hardware.
Visit Schleich’s website to view their entire product range and upcoming new releases. If your family already enjoys their animal figurines, consider entering their Hobby Farm Home Contest by submitting a photo of a farm diorama featuring Schleich’s domestic animal figures.