Co-review — Toys Go Out: Being yet another clever book by the talented Emily Jenkins

h1 January 17th, 2007 by jules

toys-go-out.gifToys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic
by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
September 2006
Schwartz & Wade Books
Eisha: library copy; Jules: personal copy

The lowdown on the book: Emily Jenkins’ Toys Go Out is a chapter book, if we must call it that, which is about three best friends, who just happen to be the beloved toys of a little girl who “lives on a high bed with fluffy pillows.” Lumphy is a stuffed buffalo, StingRay is a stuffed stingray, and Plastic isn’t quite sure what she is. But she endeavors to find out. The book consists of six related stories about their adventures inside and outside of the girl’s room (which involve the terrifying bigness of the washing machine, the vastness of the sea, dogs, and much more) and their musings on the meaning of life. The book is the recipient of a 2006 Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Book, and Jenkins’ previous titles have been Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor recipients on two occasions, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, and an American Library Association Notable.

Jules: Okay, that was the formal description of the book. Here’s my gushing, informal one: This book is perfect and wonderful, and I think I’m in love with Emily Jenkins’ writer-mind. I know you thought it was nearly perfect or perfect as well, Eisha, right? I mean, I try to avoid using “charming” and “quirky” to describe books, but it’s both terrifically charming and hilariously quirky. So there.

five-creatures.gifthat-new-animal.giflove-you-when-you-whine.gifAnd Jenkins just keeps wow’ing us. First, Five Creatures and then That New Animal and then Love You When You Whine — and lots of other titles in and around and between those (and if you’re new to Jenkins, those featured titles are picture books, by the way. Go here to see all her titles, and go here on our site and scroll down to the bottom to Jules’ review — sort of — of Love You When You Whine). And her site is impressive, too. I already thought she was one of the major new talents in children’s lit, but now she’s sealed the deal for serious with Toys Go Out. I wish I could purchase it for every child I know. Wasn’t it like she was channeling a child’s mind, Eisha? And could you even begin to pick your favorite part? There wasn’t a lifeless moment in it.

shivers-in-the-fridge.gifAnd, woo hoo! Welcome back, Zelinsky! I’m sorry, but I just didn’t get or care for The Shivers in the Fridge (his most recent illustrated work, October ’06). I’ve not said that before, ’cause I don’t want to be spewing forth negative energy on this blog. If I don’t like a title at all, I just don’t review it, unless I feel terribly compelled to for some other reason. But, well, I didn’t even like his illustrations in that picture book (I’m gasping. There. I said it. I, otherwise, adore his work).

eisha: Oh, yes. This book is just about perfect. It’s got humor, pathos, and drama; it’s got characters who are distinct from each other, believably flawed, yet sympathetic; and their concerns reflect those of the intended audience: self-identity and insecurity, fear of the unknown, love and friendship. Oh, and it’s actually a funny, enjoyable book about the secret lives of toys, unlike, oh, some other books I could mention.

I was sold from the very first moment, in which the three friends find themselves crammed in a dark backpack that smells “like a wet bathingsuit,” and everyone is so nervous about where they might be going that Stingray snaps at Lumphy, “Why don’t you shut your buffalo mouth?… Your buffalo mouth is far too whiny.” But if I had to pick a favorite part, it would be when Lumphy has gotten besmirched with peanut butter and has been hiding for several days to avoid the dreaded washing machine, but has a change of heart when he peeks from behind the rocking horse and sees the Little Girl crying as she looks for him:

     She misses me, Lumphy realizes. She thinks I’m gone forever.

     The idea had never occurred to him.

     He rushes out from behind the horse.    

     Ag! He remembers the washing machine and runs back behind the horse’s legs.

     Ag! The Little Girl is crying! Out again.

     Ag! The washer. Back behind the legs.










It’s almost a beat poem, isn’t it? Don’t you just ache for that tender-hearted little buffalo? I thought Emily Jenkins was very clever in how she depicted the after-hours movements and activities of the toys. If I have one quibble, one thing that stretched my suspension of disbelief a little far, it was this: how did Plastic play checkers? And turn pages in books? Telekinesis? But whatever, if you’re going to accept the premise of toys that move and talk at all, I suppose you shouldn’t nitpick over details.

Jules: That didn’t cross my mind. Well, perhaps it did, but I figured she’d put all her efforts into it and bounce those checker pieces right where they needed to be . . . aw hell, I dunno. Yes, I guess my disbelief was staunchly and willingly suspended. But, you make a good point: Most children would, most certainly, notice this with an eagle-eye.

You picked a great part of the book to highlight. That chapter and “The Possible Shark” (who is really a dog who takes Plastic in its jaws and paddles out of the ocean and onto the shore) are probably my two favorites. In fact, I really lurved how StingRay is always explaining things in such list-like formation for those lesser-enlightened toys, and my favorite example of that is in the chapter you mention . . . being the moment in which StingRay is trying to convince Lumphy that he needs to be cleaned:

“Clean is better than dirty,” explains StingRay. “Like neat is better than messy,

    and smart is better than stupid       

    and chocolate is better than lentils

    and blue is better than orange.”

“I like orange,” mutters Lumphy.

“Some people do,” allows StingRay, lining up her blocks in a neat row. “But blue is better.”

It’s just . . . I don’t know . . . so wonderfully droll in spots. I guess that’s a large part of the charm. Droll without being insufferably whimsical or exceedingly quaint. Hard thing to pull off, I’d think.

I guess this post doesn’t need to be too terribly long. I think I’m done. Not to mention that your statements after your “oh, yes” about why the book is just about perfect pretty much nail the book’s magnificence and splendor (is that a bit much? I don’t think so. I could, without question, read it again a second time right now and find even more to enjoy).

But I don’t want to close up shop here if you’re not done. Any more thoughts? Think we could try to get Emily Jenkins for an interview and ask her how she came to be so brilliant?

eisha: Yes, droll is a good word for her style of humor; it’s deadpan and sneaky and witty. And it’s so cool how she pulls off having StingRay be so obnoxiously smartypants, yet so transparently insecure and genuinely good-hearted that you can’t help but love her anyway.

And yes, if anyone has contact info for Emily Jenkins, get it to us post haste. I’m in the mood for a tea party, and I think our toys and Ms. Jenkins’ toys would get along splendidly.

4 comments to “Co-review — Toys Go Out: Being yet another clever book by the talented Emily Jenkins”

  1. Great review, guys. I loved the book too, calling it the anti-Tulane. I see by your links back to other important posts that you also noted the comparison. How ridiculous is it that this book feels like a well-kept secret and that book is at the top of everyone’s best of lists. Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself from another Tulane mini-rant.

  2. Well, shoot. I bought Tulane when it first came out because it looks beautiful, and I liked Despereaux. I haven’t read it yet, but it is somewhat prominently displayed on a shelf in my baby son’s room. I know I need to read it for myself before I judge, but I’ve read some not-so-nice words about it on blogs, and now I’m afraid!

  3. Kate, I’m sorry I sort of neglected this comment for like a week. But I would say: definitely read it for yourself. I know many people who I like and respect who really did like it. And there are some good points to it: the writing is lovely, as are the illustrations. Don’t let our bad-mouthing put you off, any more than the glowing reviews in SLJ, Kirkus, etc. should convince you that it’s great. To each her own.

  4. […] very latest project is Emily Jenkins’ sequel to 2006’s Toys Go Out, entitled Toy Dance Party (both published by Schwartz & Wade Books), which is every bit as […]

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