Monday, January 19, 2009

Secret Life of Playthings, Part II: Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins

Lumphy, the stuffed buffalo, did not go with the Girl on winter vacation.

StingRay did not go, either. She thought she would. The Girl even told her that she would, because she and StingRay sleep together, every single night, on the high bed with the fluffy pillows. But in the end, when the suitcases were packed and the car loaded, the Girl and her parents drove away--and StingRay was left behind.

The house is cold.

Things are changing. Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic the bouncy ball can feel it. The Girl, called Honey by her parents, is growing up. For the first time she goes away on vacation and does not take one of them with her. She takes dominoes and playing cards, and worst of all, the silent Barbies in their vinyl box. The top toys wait, and the others wait--Sheep, Highlander the Horse, and the toy mice, wondering what has become of Honey.

Could she be lost? Lumphy convinces himself, against Plastic's dire warnings, that as the brave and woolly buffalo, he must go out in the falling snow to find her. Daringly, he tosses a plastic baby stegosaurus place mat out the window and launches himself onto it to toboggan down the lawn and out into the world where the Girl has gone. But alas, when he ventures off the mat, he sinks helplessly into the deep snow. Immobilized, he calls for help and StingRay follows, armed with a spatula for a shovel and a diplodocus place mat for a sled. But it's no good; StingRay is soon stuck in the snow hole with Lumphy, too.

Plastic watches from the window. There is no one else who can help. Sheep is on wheels. The toy mice are too small, and the rocking horse in the corner can't move around. Plastic stands watch for many hours as the snow floats into the hole where her friends are....

Late that night a car pulls into the driveway. The people are home.

The mom comes inside...but the Girl stops in the driveway and looks into the yard. There is a spatula there, in the light from the porch, and two dinosaur place mats.

Seconds later, she is lifting StingRay and Lumphy into her warm arms.

"Lumphy, you sweetie buffalo!" she cries. "Are you okay? And StingRay, you're all soggy! Did you fall out of my bag when we left the house? Let me take you inside!"

Although the girl knows that her toys have a life of their own when no one can see, she cannot help growing up and away from them. Even when she kindly takes Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic along to a sleepover, they find themselves ignored, tossed into a jumble of dress-up clothes and jounced to the floor as the girls jump on the bed and style their Barbies' hair.

Another intimidating event occurs when Honey receives a package from Grampa which emits a scary "Grunk. Gru-Grunk!" It's a hollow rubber shark, and the three toys are sure that it is going to eat all the toy mice and possibly themselves as well.

Rumpa, lumpa, rumpa lumpa,
Frrrrrr, frrrr
Boing, boing, boing!
Around through the pantry,
And down another flight of stairs,
Fwak! Gobble-a, gobble-a,
Into the basement, where the shark will not find them.

In the basement the toys are consoled by Frank, the singing washer, and his inarticulate partner, dryer, and soon the toys are dancing to Frank's bouncy songs in a rocking and rolling toy dance party.

But soon they remember the helpless toy mice upstairs with a dangerous predator. What if...? The thoughts are too horrible to imagine, and StingRay comes up with the only possible solution: stuff the shark full of garbage so that he can't eat another thing. Upstairs with the kitchen garbage bag they go, and into the shark's gaping mouth go orange peels, lettuce leaves, and coffee filters, until his hollow insides bulge. There is only time to hide the remains of the garbage under Honey's bed when the people return.

Although the Girl knows of the hidden lives of her toys and quickly takes the blame for them when the under-bed garbage bag is discovered by her parents, the toys still grieve for the loss of their "specialness" with her. When the toys abandon caution and make a horrible mess decorating the Barbie box with her nail polish, Honey again covers for them and seems to understand the hurt behind their mischief.

"I know I haven't played with you much lately." She pets Lumphy's woolly back. "But I love you. And I will always keep you." she swears. "StingRay, Plastic, and Lumphy, Sheep and Daisy Sparkle. Even Highlander and the mice. I'll keep all of you forever."

Emily Jenkins' even-better sequel to her 2007 best-seller Toys Go Out convincingly builds a world where stuffed toys and even washers, dryers, and bath towels have a life of their own, known only to the still-empathetic child. Each character--the gruff, brave, and not-so-bright Lumphy, the bossy but cautious StingRay, the perky, intellectually curious Plastic, and the stoical Sheep, yearning for clover and his lost ears--have unique and lovable personalities. Even Frank the Washer, the finally restored Dryer, and the worn but wise Tuk-Tuk the yellow towel have their own voices. Superbly illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Paul Zelinsky, Toy Dance Party and its wonderful characters join Winnie-the-Pooh, the Velveteen Rabbit, and Edward Tulane in the storybook Toys Hall of Fame.

For my review of Toys Go Out and other such notable toy characters, see my post of March 15, 2007, here.



Post a Comment

<< Home