September 10, 2015
(++++) TOYING WITH TALE-TELLING
Toys Meet Snow. By Emily Jenkins. Pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.
Tulip and Rex Write a Story. By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Sarah Massini. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.
A thoroughly endearing book with the magic of a winter wonderland on every page, Emily Jenkins’ Toys Meet Snow is a beautifully conceived and wonderfully executed picture-book spinoff from the Toys chapter-book trilogy: Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party and Toys Come Home. The same improbable toy trio, each with a well-defined personality and each possessing adorable quirks, is featured here: Lumphy, a stuffed buffalo; StingRay, a plush, dry-clean-only sting ray; and Plastic, a rubber (not plastic) ball. They belong to the Little Girl, but she is not in Toys Meet Snow: she has gone away on winter vacation. So when the first snow of the season falls, Lumphy and StingRay and Plastic encounter it on their own, trying to figure out just what snow is and where it comes from. Lumphy is the questioner and the quester: he wonders why snow falls and is the one who suggests that the toys go out in it. StingRay is the poet: she says snow means “the clouds are sad and happy at the same time” and suggests that the snow has turned a familiar evergreen in the yard into a candy tree. Plastic is the realist, bolstered by book learning, explaining that snow is really frozen water and the “candy tree” has not really changed: “I recognize the branches.” How easy it would be, when reading the back-and-forth among them, to forget that these are toys! But Paul O. Zelinsky’s illustrations make that happily impossible. Zelinsky works wizardry with this story. A five-panel sequence, spread over two pages, showing the toys trying to open the door so they can go out, is hilarious and perfectly apt. A subtle illustration showing clouds being happy and sad at once is marvelous, and the way it shades over into the same scene without the emotional clouds – as Plastic gives the matter-of-fact explanation about what snow is – is even more wonderful. A snowman-building scene is delightful, and a scene of snow angels, without the toys in it – just showing the shapes they have made in the snow – is almost unbearably cute. This is a treasurable book, from the sparks of curiosity that ignite the small adventure to StingRay’s poetic assertion, when Lumphy asks what a sunset is, that “it’s strawberry syrup pouring over the world to make it sweet before nightfall” (and what a fine illustration Zelinsky creates for that comment). A beautiful bedtime book, a to-be-cherished winter story, a tale of friendship and poetry and warmth and beauty, Toys Meet Snow is an extraordinary seasonal work in which families can delight during any season at all.
The weather is warm, and so are the sentiments, in Tulip and Rex Write a Story, the second book featuring a little girl who loves dancing more than anything, and a “rather large” and rather ungainly-looking dog. Rex was discovered in the first book, Tulip Loves Rex, wearing a sign saying “I am not quite like other dogs” on one side and, on the other, asking someone to adopt him – which Tulip and her indulgent parents promptly did. The Tulip-Rex relationship moves to a new level in Tulip and Rex Write a Story, which starts with the arrival of a package from Grandma that includes a notebook for Tulip and a new leash for Rex; continues with a romp in the park; and then becomes a celebration of words and their effects. “H-O-P is such a happy word,” says Tulip, and “Flutter is a lovely word,” she adds after she and Rex see a butterfly. The word collecting goes on: feather, float, shadow, run and more – until Tulip falls into a little stream and, after Rex helps her out, proclaims him “the bravest and kindest dog in the world.” And that gives Tulip an idea for using all the words she and Rex have collected to create a once-upon-a-time story – which Tulip promptly does, imagining herself as Queen Tulip and Rex as King Rex and thinking up a dragon and a floating feather and magical happenings interrupted only by the mundane need to sit down for a picnic lunch with Tulip’s parents. Trippingly told by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illuminatingly illustrated by Sarah Massini, Tulip and Rex Write a Story manages to celebrate little girls, big dogs, the emotional impact of words, the way stories are made, and, of course, friendship and family. That sounds like a big order for a short picture book, but it proves to be one that Capucilli and Massini fill enchantingly in this sweet and gentle tale.