Who could imagine the introduction of a self-conscious stingray could lead to such great things?
How toys StingRay, Lumpy and Plastic learn to share their Girl's living quarters (and her affection) forms the plot of this humorous, bittersweet precursor to Toys Go Out (2006) and Toy Dance Party (2008). Owning her role as the “Actual Day of Birth Present,” StingRay fights for her place among a group of peculiar playthings, which are all bossed about by pompous walrus Bobby Dot. StingRay saves sleepy Sheep (sans its ear) from thistles, and Lumpy outwits an aggressive feline houseguest. Bobby Dot's unintentional sacrifice comforts his beloved child but brings about a fate of Velveteen Rabbit proportions—a dryer, sneakers and dry-clean–only stuffed animal clearly do not mix. Life's brutal realities are spotlighted with a gleaming authenticity (“Because now StingRay knows something she really and truly did not know before. A life can be over”). Character-driven episodes unfold in six fully realized chapters; Zelinsky's softly shaded pencil drawings showcase pivotal moments, revealing each individual idiosyncrasy (narcoleptic Sheep included) during this eventful year. A cozy self-contained ending depicts the security found in hearth and home—or, in this case, the cool comfort only the linen-closet floor (and a snuggle with your closest friends) can provide.
This enjoyable trio deserves its rightful place away from the confines of any toy chest. (Fantasy. 6-9)