Review x 3: Toy Dance Party, Henry and Ribsy, The Boxcar Children

Sep 22, 2014

Can I just tell you how much I treasure the time in the evenings when I get to read aloud to Aaron and Maxwell? I love it so much that even when we've had a busy evening, and it's already 8:00, I can't put them to bed without reading a couple chapters.

Here's what we've been reading recently:

1. Toy Dance Party: Being the Further Adventures of a Bossyboots Stingray, A Courageous Buffalo, and a Hopeful Round Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins

This is the second book in the Toys series, and, from most of the reviews I've read, it's not as well liked as the first one, Toys Go Out. But I'm here to put in a good word for it because my kids and I loved it just as much as the first one.

Toys Go Out was delightful because all of the characters were new (we didn't even know what kind of toy Plastic was for the first couple of chapters). But Toy Dance Party was delightful because most of the characters were old, and it was so fun to get more of StingRay's "wisdom," Lumphy's bravery, and Plastic's optimism.

There were also several secondary characters (the one-eared sheep, the mice, etc.) that got more attention this time around as well as a couple of new characters (Spark (aka, DaisySparkle) and Buttermilk).

This one was also a little more poignant than the first one since Honey (the little girl) is growing up, and even though she still loves her toys, her interest in them is waning (à la Toy Story).

I think my favorite scene is when the new toy shark is writhing around in her box and Plastic realizes (rather mournfully) that when she was at the beach she was actually eaten by a beagle dog and not a shark. Either that, or when Honey names the shark DaisySparkle, much to StringRay's dismay. 

These are just all-around really great books--equally enjoyed (at least in this family) by both parent and child.

2. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary

It's been nearly six months since we finished Henry's last adventure. In the meantime, we read a couple of the Ramona books, but it was definitely time to return to Klickitat Street. In this one, Henry really wants to go salmon fishing with his dad. After an unfortunate (and embarrassing) incident where Ribsy steals a policeman's sandwich (while Henry is stuck in a car lift, no less), Henry's dad tells him he can go on the fishing trip with him if he can keep Ribsy out of trouble for the six weeks until it's time to go. That's a really big if.

My kids loved this book, and it's just so fun for me to overhear their various reactions and conversations about certain parts.

They loved the chapter when Ribsy pulls out Henry's two canine teeth at the same time. None of my kids have lost any teeth yet, but Aaron and Max were very impressed with Henry's method. "I wish we had a dog," Aaron lamented, "so he could pull out my teeth." "What about Molly?" I asked (because, hint, we are never owning a dog). "Oh, I never thought about using our cousins' dog!" So look out, Molly. Your services may be required at a future date.

And then of course they loved the last two chapters where (spoiler) Henry and Ribsy are on the fishing trip and Ribsy nearly gets swept out to sea and then a little later (spoiler again), Henry lands a chinook with his bare hands. I know, be impressed; my boys certainly were. They loved it so much that after we were done we had to look up pictures of chinooks. And Maxwell, always ready with a story, has been telling the wildest tales of catching a chinook himself . . . while he's at preschool, of course (everything I don't know about conveniently happened at preschool.).

3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Sometimes I like to read the first book in a series to my kids just to sort of kick it off for them so that they're already familiar with it before launching into the rest on their own. I never thought I'd be grateful for such formulaic and long-winded series as Magic Tree House, but now that I have a well-established reader on my hands, I'm discovering how nice it is to say, "Oh, you liked Dinosaurs Before Dark? Well guess what? There are approximately 12,751 more books about that magic tree house. Read up."

These were the thoughts that were going through my head when I picked up The Boxcar Children: we'll read this first one together, and then Aaron will be set for life . . . or at least until third grade. Plus, I had a certain nostalgia tugging at me, prodding me to return to this much-beloved series from my childhood.

And you know what? The magic was still there. I honestly wasn't expecting it to be. I thought it would be a somewhat painful readaloud and that I'd be happy to let Aaron read the rest of the books on his own. But I truly enjoyed it.

True, the language is a little old-fashioned and overly simple. There were times when I felt like I was reading a Dick and Jane early reader ("What a good house that will be in the rain," she thought). And yes, it is pretty unbelievable that four kids could live on their own in an old boxcar and not seem to have any emotional trauma over losing both their mother and their father.

But . . .

. . . there was also something so exciting and, dare I say, even empowering watching those four kids be so capable and self-sufficient: using the space behind the waterfall to make a refrigerator, scavenging for useable items in the dump, and damming up the stream to make a swimming pool.  I could see the sparks in my kids' eyes, ideas churning in their heads, given voice when Max asked, "Maybe if I had some wood, I could build something out of it." This story taps into that quiet longing for independence that lies within every child.

And then, self-sufficient or not, you can't help but be thrilled when their grandpa finds them, and they discover that he isn't cruel and mean after all and he takes them to his home but lets them bring the dog (and the boxcar) too.

What fun books have you been reading to your kids lately?


  1. I'll have to track down The Boxcar Children, #1. We have four random ones (found at thrift stores, no doubt). We tried to start reading one of them--#5, I believe--and there was too many references to what had already happened. Not enough background info. We were all lost and the kids got bored pretty quickly. I remember loving the first book when I read it as a kid, though.
    Henry and Ribsy is definitely on our short list for read-aloud time, as well.
    Thanks for your reviews. I always get some good ideas for what to read next from you!

    1. Yes, I'd definitely start with the first one. Since it's not really a mystery, it feels different than the other ones.

      I'm so glad you get new ideas from these posts! I hope you'll share any good books you discover as well!

  2. I did the same for Boxcar earlier this year, and felt the same way! Then N read Surprise Island to us, then I told him he was on his own. I believe Gertrude Chandler Warner passed away after book 19, so I feel no desire to have anyone read past that, because I'm a snob :).

    1. Yep, that's right, she only wrote the first nineteen, so while I might be talked into reading Surprise Island, I won't read The Mystery of the Purple Pool (#38) (or any of the other later ones).


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