This prequel to the magnificent Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party depicts the arrival of StingRay (a stuffed stingray, naturally) to the Little Girl's house and her gradual assimilation into the household, where she lives with the other sentient toys and objects, from a pompous walrus named Bobby Dot to a wise old towel named TukTuk.
StingRay, who is very smart and rather complicated, is a good soul at heart (she rescues Sheep from a terrible predicament, at great personal risk) but she does suffer from uncharitable and petty thoughts. She prefers that the others think she knows everything (and will make stuff up so as not to destroy their illusions), and she can't help but think "better him than me" when the demise of Bobby Dot means that StingRay gets to sleep on the Girl's bed with her.
"The joy, the guilt, the loss, and the relief: all these feelings toss around inside her in the night..."Oh StingRay - been there, honey!
But it's Lumphy the buffalo (such a sweet and brave guy) who truly suffers existential Angst, brought on by the newly arrived and irrepressible Plastic asking "Why are we here?...Why are we here in the Girl's room? In this town, on this planet?" StingRay can't answer, of course and so sputters "I'll tell you later. Right now I have some important stuff to do."
But poor Lumphy can't stop wondering about the question - it keeps him up at night, worrying. He has Dread, which, he explains to Plastic, "...has to do with too much dark. And not knowing why we're here. And not sleeping."
Jeepers! Truly, can anything be better than a story with lovingly drawn characters (not just figuratively - Zelinsky's illustrations are pretty darn good), hair-raising adventure, pathos, humor, Big Philosophical Questions, AND a 3rd-grade reading level? I think not.
Highly recommended, as are the other two books in this trilogy, for all ages ('cause it makes a great read-aloud for younger kids as well).