Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review of Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins

Fans of Toys Go Out (Schwartz and Wade, 2006) have reason to rejoice. Its sequel, Toy Dance Party, due out September 9, comes very close to the perfection of the first book, featuring as it does Our Heroes - "a bossyboots stingray, a courageous buffalo, and a hopeful round someone called Plastic."

If you have ever been fairly certain that many of the supposedly inanimate objects around are actually sentient, this book will resonate. (for an intriguing grown-up fantasy about a young woman who can communicate with all inanimate objects, from cars to garden gates to doorknobs, read A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman). As a child (and even a bit to this day), I knew I had to be careful to show my animals and dolls I loved them, or their feelings might be hurt. Sure enough, there are plenty of hurt feelings (and then heartfelt apologies) in this book.

There are also moments of sheer inspired genius, for instance when StingRay works herself into a gasping, sobbing, writhing fit over her certainty that the Girl doesn't want or love her anymore. "This can't go on," thinks the pathos-averse Lumphy (the buffalo), and squelches StingRay's tantrum by covering her with TukTuk (a talking yellow towel) and then sitting on her. When at long last StingRay recovers her equilibrium, Lumphy says to her, "The Girl still loves us." "Okay," says StingRay meekly. "I just got concerned for a minute."

In another fabulous scene, StingRay insists that everyone act out a movie she has just seen with the Girl, but she gets rather distracted while dressing up for her role as Princess DaisySparkle and tries on a great many costumes, making all the other toys wait quite...a...long...time. Naturally, no one plays like StingRay wants them to and especially not Lumphy, causing the two to attack one another - injuries actually occur!

The two friends make up, and even the intrusion of a shark toy (yikes!) into their midst ends up okay after some initial misunderstandings. An ill Dryer gets repaired rather than scrapped. TukTuk and Lumphy make up after TukTuk's feelings get hurt. Only the fact that the Girl (whose name, they figure out, must be Honey as that is what her mom calls her) is slowly growing older and doesn't seem to want to play with them as much remains a confusing and painful situation to which they must become accustomed.

Luckily, the toys all have each other (plus Honey's promise that she will love and keep them forever), and therefore life is pretty good. There are games of Uncle Wiggly and cards, not to mention the Dance Party of the title. And here's something that will come as a relief - Barbies don't talk, and in fact seem to possess no sentience whatsoever! (Phew! Have you ever examined the expressions on Barbies? They vary wildly, and while some Barbies seem quite sweet and kind, others are clearly Mean Girls).

I hate to assign an age range for this book, as so many will love it. How about - a fabulous read-aloud for ages 5 and up, and an excellent read-alone for ages 7 and up.

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