Toys Go Out

“Excuse me,” says Sheep, agitated. “If Lumphy keeps sitting in my new friend, how can we have our chewing club?”

“Did you know cheese is made in caves? Because it is! You put milk in a cave and it comes out cheese!”

“He tries not to smell like peanut butter”
Does anyone remember the film The Brave Little Toaster? As a child, I was at once riveted and horrified by this story of animated household objects.  The vulnerability of the tiny yellow blankie, alarm clock, and grumpy old vacuum cleaner really didn’t sit well with my childhood anxieties…and yet, I loved it.  I loved this movie so much.  Now, one can argue that children aren’t particularly selective, but I have to say, when it comes to the younger crowd, there’s just something compelling about the concept of toys coming alive.  As a nanny, I’ve had several conversations over the years concerning the actions of toys when owners are absent.  For further evidence: please consider the success of Toy Story, which is releasing a third movie this spring.

Emily Jenkins taps children’s common fondness for their toys, and the appealing idea of them being alive, with these stories, which seem tailor-made for bedtime reading.  The subtitle of the series is as so: “being the adventures of a bossyboots stingray, a courageous buffalo, and a hopeful round someone called plastic”.  Indeed, the character list includes a rather bossy plush stingray, an endearingly timid buffalo, a plastic ball, a one-eared sheep, and a yellow towel named TukTuk (I have to say, I can’t help but link TukTuk with Blankie in The Brave Little Toaster) The adventures include a slumber party, a trip to the washing machine, a rescue-operation for a toy mouse accidentally sucked up in the vacuum cleaner, and a lot of meek and sad wonderings about whether the Girl (the toys assume her name is Honey, as it is what her parents use to refer to her) is growing up and they won’t have the “specialness” with her anymore.  I have mixed feelings about the books, really, and it all comes back to those meek and sad moments.  For instance, when the dryer in the basement breaks a part, her spouse, Frank the Washer, is grief-stricken, and I have to say, I choked up a little.  Perhaps excessive sensitivity is a personal quirk of mine, but in my defense, it was really sad! The books probe very common childhood fears (abandonment, loss, school, disagreements with friends), all from the perspective of toys.  And hey, I really think children can probably not only handle it, but will love these books.  Yes, sometimes they’re sad, but the sadness is resolved in a gentle way.

The best part of the books really come from Stingray’s bungled and adorable explanations of the world around her. 

She frequently attempts to describe phenomena such as sleepovers and movie theaters to her fellow toys, and it is really so appealing.  The personas of the toys themselves are believable, empathy-inspiring, and lovable.  If I had a child of my own, you can bet these books would be on our nightly reading list.   Chapter titles range from “The Terrifying Bigness of the Washing Machine” to “The Garbage-Eating Shark (Which is Not the Same as the Possible Shark)”, and the books are filled with catchy made-up songs and many cute and insightful observations on the nature of children and the outside world.

Jenkins, Emily. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Schwartz & Wade, 2006. Reading level: Ages 4-8 Hardcover: 128 pages. ISBN-10: 0375836047

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