by Emily Jenkins
2011 | 144 pages | Chapter Book
Toys Come Home is actually a prequel to Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party, but I have never read either of those, so I’m really reviewing this book in isolation. This story is mainly about a toy stingray and how she comes to be in the possession of a little girl who also owns several other toys. It is also - among other things - about what happens when a toy is lost, how a sheep who apparently figures heavily into the other two books loses an ear, the cliqueishness of the towels living in the linen closet, and the warmth associated with being the toy chosen to sleep in the big bed.
I have loved every book I’ve read by Emily Jenkins but I was very unexpectedly blown away by Toys Come Home. I’ve seen Jenkins do witty and funny in her YA novels written as E. Lockhart. I’ve loved her picture books, especially The Little Bit Scary People, for turning stereotypes on their heads and challenging kids not to be judgmental. I also loved Invisible Inkling for its wonderfully imaginative creation of an invisible species. And Toys Come Home is the book that completes my portrait of this author. It is yet another side to her writing, that beautiful, emotional, nostalgic tone that we often see as a sign of great children’s literature.
This book contains so much that will undoubtedly turn it into a classic. Each word is chosen so carefully, to convey exactly the thought or emotion the character experiences. From the first moment of the story, when Stingray first becomes aware that she is sentient, and that she has found a new home, the reader is just immersed in this gorgeous stream of consciousness that conveys exactly what it would be like if toys had feelings. And the toys in this book have many feelings - joy, sorrow, grief, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, bravery, love. They question their existence and speculate about the girl’s feelings for them. They watch out for one another, and over time, grow from uncertain newcomers into leaders.
It’s amazing what Jenkins has done with such a simple concept - toys that come to life. Within the world she has created, there are so many opportunities to explore the bigger questions that kids and all human beings must wrestle with. It’s the kind of book that really gets into your mind and doesn’t easily leave again. I am really looking forward to reading the other two books to find out what else happens in this series.
I would recommend this book, honestly, to anyone, even very small kids who would need to have it read aloud. In terms of reading independently, however, it is on the high end of the early chapter book spectrum, and probably most appropriate for kids reading at the third grade level.
I read Toys Come Home at my local Barnes & Noble store.
NOTE: This book was nominated by Becky for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!