Did your toy cars have personalities? (Alissa Grosso)

In some ways my childhood was the sort that every kid dreams about, well, in one very specific way. My father worked for a toy company. Through about first grade or so, save for a brief time period when he worked for Goody (forever known in our family as the Christmas of the barrettes) my father worked for Lesney Products which manufactured Matchbox Cars, Ginny Dolls and a few other smaller lines that never really took off.

What this meant is that I had a lot of Matchbox Cars growing up as well as pretty much every Matchbox Car accessory that there ever was: the car wash, the parking garage, the Sounds of Service auto repair facility, a variety of racetracks and something called Play Track.

Play Track consisted a bunch of different pieces that could be connected and arranged in a variety of ways, and thanks to my dad's job, I had enough pieces to make some pretty elaborate setups.

One thing that I struggle with nowadays, is how gendered toys have become. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s I do not remember the gender division that exists in the toy aisles of stores today. Maybe part of it was that there wasn't much in the way of girl colors and boy colors back then. Pretty much everything was primary colors in those days, but there didn't seem to be much of a stigma about girls playing with cars, and I definitely knew plenty of boys who had Cabbage Patch Kids. I'm not even going to get into My Little Ponies which first appeared around this time and whose cross-gender appeal is so legendary that their male fandom even has their own nickname because this is a post about one little girl who spent hours playing with her toy cars.

Okay, but what does this have to do with worldbuiling you ask? In a very literal sense I would regularly build worlds for my toy cars by setting up the massive amount of Play Track pieces we had to form townscapes that would likely horrify most traffic engineers.

Then I would people these towns with cars. Even as a young child I understood that cars were inanimate machines driven by human beings, but other than me, the master creator, no humans ever figured into my car play because in this world the cars were the people.

I found some Matchbox cars while roaming through a Toys R Us store recently.

My cars all had personalities. Some were mean. Some were nice. Some were old and cranky. Some were young show-offs. I know I said before that toys in this era did not seem gendered in general, but on a more specific level all my cars had genders. Because, of course they did. This was decades before the Cars movies, and yes I do feel a slight pang of regret when I realize I should have written that movie and become fabulously wealthy.

But what that movie franchise proves to me, is that I couldn't possibly be the only one whose toy cars had personalities. I suspect there were quite a few of us out there, and I suspect that more than one of us went on to become a writer or to enter some other creative profession. Because sitting down and writing a book is a lot like getting out that big Play Track box.

When you sit down to write a new book, you are creating your world. It might not be as easy as snapping together plastic pieces, but it can be just as fun to plot out a story and create the realistic or fantastic universe it takes place in. Then the playing really begins when you add the characters whether they are human, beast or vehicle--seeing how they interact with this world you've created for them and with the other characters around them can provide for endless fun.

It's been a while since I've played with cars though I still have my Matchbox Cars collection somewhere in my attic. These days I've moved on to creating worlds out of words, and I am happy to report that it's just as fun. So, my advice to you is to take joy in playing with your words and creating the worlds of your books. It really is a lot of fun.

Alissa Grosso's word-play has led to the creation of the the novels Unnamed Roads, Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. Find out more about her books and how you can get a free one at alissagrosso.com.


  1. I had a few Matchbox cars! But mostly we played with plastic animals. And yes, they had names and personalities and interacted in complicated scenarios, and that is probably where my storytelling began.

  2. You have GOT to write a story about these cars.

  3. I'm still a car girl! My grown-up cars are named the Zipster and the Silverado. :-)

  4. I LOVED cars when I was little and still do. I have told my family that if I ever hit the big time with this novel-writing gig, I won't be buying a brand new car. Instead, I'll be buying a vintage '69 GTO. :)

  5. When you give a set of wheels of any size to children you can watch their faces light up with delight at the thought that they are going to become a driver instead of just a passenger. ride on toys


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