What do the toys do when you are away?
It is a perennial question that has inspired stories from Raggedy Ann to Winnie the Pooh to Toy Story. In Toys Go Out, Emily Jenkins takes the baton from Johnny Gruelle, A.A. Milne, and Pixar and delivers a fresh take on this timeless concept.
Jenkins makes it clear that her toys have their own distinctive personalities right from the opening scene. Lumphy, the stuffed buffalo, is a little anxious and would like to be warned prior to the unexpected trip in a backpack. StingRay, the stuffed stingray, thinks she knows where they are going and it is NOT a good place. She conjures a long list of things to worry about, including veterinarian’s needles the size of carrots. Plastic, the red rubber ball, tries to maintain a sense of calm, humming to chase away her fears.
Toys Go Out includes a supporting cast of excitable toy mice, a half-deaf sheep, a quiet rocking horse, a friendly washing machine and a wise yellow towel. There is also a family, a Little Girl and her parents, who live in the house, but who are mostly relegated to the background.
Toys Go Out is told in an episodic format where each chapter comprises a fully resolved story, with some plot links woven and extended throughout the book. This structure makes this little book a wonderful introduction to novels for children and families. Paul O. Zelinsky’s charming illustrations give just enough support to new novel listeners, but they are sparse enough to encourage attentive and imaginative listening.
And, oh the language! It is rich and layered and so playful. Jenkins has a real knack for creating nonsense words that fit perfectly in the prose. There are words like “Hrmmphle wurrffle” which is precisely the sound a buffalo would make if he were stuck, face down, in a soccer cleat. Each character has its own voice and vernacular. You can practically hear StingRay’s trembling voice, filled with concern over the next perceived calamity. You can hear the sage wisdom in the voice of TukTuk the towel as she dispenses advice, and the joy in Plastic when she discovers the truth about her identity. Jenkins’ words – real and created – beg to be read aloud, making Toys Go Out the perfect way to introduce your school community to the joy of reading aloud together.
And once you fall in love with Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic, you can play with them more in the delightful sequels Toy Dance Party and Toys Come Home. For younger siblings, Jenkins and Zelinsky also teamed up to make a lovely picture book, Toys Meet Snow.