Review x 3: Toys Go Out, A Mouse Called Wolf, and Mostly Monty

Aug 2, 2014

We've finished several books in the last couple of weeks, so I'm combining reviews once again. Plus, these ones were all short, so I don't have as much to say about them.

1. Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins

I first heard about this book from Erica's list of Read Aloud Chapter Books for 4-6 Year Olds (an excellent list, by the way, if you're looking for books for that age group). And then of course (as so often happens), as soon as I checked it out, it seemed like everyone I knew was reading it. But with good reason . . . if you like awesome books, that is.

Talking toys vested with human personalities and traits is nothing new. But this does not feel like another rehashed toy book. It is fresh and creative and wonderfully lovable. Part of this, I'm sure, is because the book doesn't star typical toys. No teddy bears or curly-headed dolls here. I mean, a stingray? How many kids do you know who own a stuffed stingray, and a know-it-all one at that? (I love Stingray's facts about basements: "They are dark and full of rats. And there are spiders in the corners with fifty-eight legs, and ghosts hide there when the attic is full up, and there are cardboard boxes that anything could pop out of, like sharks, or knives, or axe murderers, and more dust than you ever saw in your life.") And I don't think stuffed buffalos are overly popular either, especially not ones with such a memorable name as Lumphy. And then there's Plastic, whose identity I won't spoil since an entire chapter is devoted to discovering who she is.

Their adventures are extremely inventive as well. I was trying to settle on a favorite chapter to mention here, but I couldn't do it; Lumphy's introduction to the washing machine (named Frank, by the way, who's at the "top of his game") and the dryer (who mumbles ("Ummmrgh") incoherently most of the time); Plastic's trip to the beach (and Stingray's resulting identity crisis); and Lumphy's exodus to the high bed (followed by Stingray's righteous indignation and sneaky plotting to get him kicked off). Each one was filled with amusing dialogue and clever discoveries you didn't expect.

Basically, I was in love with everything about this book. My boys loved it, too, and we're so glad there are two more toy books to read.

2. A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith
After our recent delight with Babe, I knew I wanted to read something else by Dick King-Smith, so I checked out A Mouse Called Wolf. Before I had a chance to begin reading it to the boys, Aaron snatched it away and read it in an afternoon by himself. The little stinker. Luckily, he was a good sport and still let me read it aloud. Let that be this book's own testament: it's good enough for a second reading.

It's about a little mouse (the smallest one of the litter) named Wolfgang Amadeus (his mother decides since he's so small, he needs a big name to grow into). His brothers and sisters shorten it to Wolf, and even his mother eventually reserves his full name only for special occasions. Wolf and his mother live in the home of an old lady named Mrs. Honeybee, and Wolf loves to hear her play the piano. One day, he decides to try to sing one of the songs he's heard, and lo and behold, he has an amazing voice (his mother is ridiculously proud: "Oh! To think that I am the mother of the world's first singing mouse!"). Mrs. Honeybee is amazed as well (and honored to have such a mouse living in her house), and Wolf soon develops a warm friendship with her.

The story is cute and sweet and adorable. There's a little bit of excitement with a cat chase and later, a broken ankle, but overall, it's pretty mellow, much like Babe.

Even though Wolf and Mrs. Honeybee become dear friends, this is not one of those stories where humans and animals bridge the communication gap and converse with each other. Wolf and Mrs. Honeybee have to find their own ways of communicating with each other and thus, never know each other's names. However, at the very end, Mrs. Honeybee decides that she must finally call her mouse something other than "my mouse". She decides on Wolfgang Amadeus since the mouse is something of a musical prodigy. But then she decides, "No, wait a bit, that's too much of a mouthful, I think. Why don't I just call you Wolf?" And then she laughs and says to herself, "You really are a ridiculous woman, Jane Honeybee. Who but you would think of something so unlikely as a mouse called Wolf!" It was the perfect way to unite the two worlds along with the title of the book. A perfectly cute ending to a perfectly cute story.

3. Mostly Monty by Johanna Hurwitz
I checked out this book by accident. Well, sort of. I am the one to blame for putting it on hold, but I thought it was a picture book. When I went to pick it up, I discovered it was a chapter book. I paged through it, thought we might like it anyway, and brought it home. There are worse mistakes to make.

The story is about a little boy named Montgomery Morris who turned six on August 15th, is starting first grade, and has asthma.

Happy coincidences that immediately endeared Monty to us: Aaron just turned six on July 29th, he is also going into first grade, and he (thankfully) does not have asthma.

For all of that, however, I was not immediately in love with the story. My kids enjoyed it, for sure, but I thought it was a little bland. Monty's asthma seemed made up for the sake of giving him something other kids could relate to and sympathize with. It was mentioned at blatantly awkward moments, almost like the author was saying, "And don't forget, Monty has a condition. Don't you want to give him a hug?" I'm not trying to downplay the fact that asthma is a real trial for some kids. I'm only saying that in the case of Monty, it felt more like a plot device rather than something that aided in the shaping of his character.

However, the last chapter made me change my opinion a little bit. In it, Monty decides that he wants a hobby. He loves to read and so settles on "learning about kangaroos" as his hobby of choice. Then he thinks it might be fun to have a kangaroo club where the club members read about kangaroos and share the information at the club meetings. He finds it a bit challenging convincing other kids to join his club (Joey Thomas says, "This is just like school. You shouldn't have to read this kind of stuff if it isn't homework."), but in the end, the club has three other members, and Monty finally has some friends.

The asthma didn't really make me love Monty, but his nerdiness did. Imagining up a kangaroo club (which is so random and yet just exactly the kind of thing a smart, introverted little boy might decide was a great idea) made me decide that Monty was a character worth getting to know after all.

But the thing I'm most happy about is that there are three more books about Monty. I've been having a hard time finding books for Aaron to read on his own that are at his level while still being about characters his age. These will be perfect.

What books have you read to your kids this summer?


  1. All of these are great books! I like Monty, but I prefer her series about the Riverside Kids, which is now out of print, except for ebooks. I just adore Emily Jenkins' books. It amazes me that she can write picture books, early chapter, middle grade and YA (as E. Lockhart) equally well.

    1. We'll have to check out Riverside Kids. Hopefully our library has it in spite of it being out of print.

      I only found out that Emily Jenkins is the same person as E. Lockhart a few weeks ago. Crazy!


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