Talking About Toys Go Out with Emily Jenkins
By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff
Hi there, readers! We hope you’re enjoying the first week of Toys Go Out. Today, we have the pleasure of bringing you an interview with Emily Jenkins, the author of Toys Go Out. Jenkons has other books in this series including Toy Dance Party, Toys Come Home, and Toys Meet Snow. All of those titles are also illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, who we’ll be featuring an interview with next week! A fun fact for you, Zelinsky & Jenkins’ next book together, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award! They’re an unstoppable pair.
In addition to those titles, Jenkins is also the author of the Invisible Inkling series, a book of fairy tales called Brave Red, Smart Frog, and many picture books, including Lemonade in Winter and A Greyhound, A Groundhog. She co-authors the Upside-Down Magic series, which is being released as a movie on the Disney Channel this summer! You can find out more about her books at emilyjenkins.com.
We’re jazzed to be interviewing such an accomplished author, and to be reading her book with you! Speaking of the interview, here it is:
How did you discover you wanted to be a writer? What did that path look like once you decided to pursue writing?
I wanted to be a writer beginning at age seven or eight. I wrote a lot of stories as a kid, filling up notebooks. But I did get distracted in my teens and twenties, wanting to be an actor and then later a professor of literature. All my training for those jobs turns out to be very useful, now, though! I definitely use my acting training presenting to kids, and I use my literature training in making stories. I began submitting my writing to publishers in my late 20s. It took a while to find success, but an editor named Frances Foster was very encouraging to me and published many of my early picture books.
What was your relationship with reading like growing up? Similarly, given the nature of the text, what was your relationship with your toys like as a child?
For about five years of my childhood, I lived with my mom in a communal situation. We shared a large home with lots of other people, and those people would move in and out. They were part of a new age spiritual community — lots of meditating, health food, and so on. Sometimes there were other kids living there, which I liked. And my mom was always a very stable and thoughtful parent; she worked as a preschool teacher and is now a family therapist. Still, my home didn’t feel very homey to me at that time, because there were so many people living there I didn’t know, so books became a kind of home to me. I would re-read my favorite stories over and over. They were like friends who would never let me down.
As for toys, all my stuffies had secret lives and adventures when I was at school or asleep. Of course! I made a video to tell you guys all about that.
What is something you hope families get out of reading Toys Go Out?
I hope you all share a laugh, or many laughs.
What made you decide to write about toys?
The toys are like kids, but can act even bigger and wilder than a kid really would, when they have strong feelings. Writing about toys let me write about everyday situations and the big feelings we can have about them, in a funny way.
Each character has their own distinct personality, where did you pull inspiration from?
All the toys have elements of my own personality. I am optimistic and bouncy like Plastic, but can also be jealous or frustrated like Lumphy. And I most certainly like to be the boss, like StingRay, and am very ambitious, like she is. To write their characters, I just tap into a part of myself and make it larger than life.
Exploring life from this perspective opens a lot of new ways to think about the world around us. What did you hope to achieve by giving readers this perspective?
Well, I never write books to give anyone a message. I write books to give people an experience. But I hope that experience is at least partly one of empathy — with creatures who are different from us, and yet share so much.
If you could be any toy (in this story or not) what would it be, and why?
In Toy Dance Party, there is a rubber shark. Her name is Spark, which is short for Princess Daisy Sparkle. I would be her. She is fierce and friendly and has excellent teeth.
What advice do you have for young readers & writers?
Don’t be afraid to imitate writers you like, and to borrow their styles, or their subject matter. That’s what painters do! They learn by copying great works of art. Sometimes teachers tell students to only write about their own lives, or to limit themselves to writing small moments. But know what? I disagree with those teachers. Imagination is one of the things that makes us uniquely human, and not everyone wants to read about small moments! Some people want stories about battles and adventures, magic and drama! Right now, all your writing is practice and one of the best ways to practice making the kinds of things you like to read is to imitate writers who do it well. It’s not stealing. It’s learning.
We love Jenkins’ closing advice. We never stop learning, and each one of us is simultaneously a teacher and a student. Remember that as you go forth and continue writing, reading, and creating! Soak in the inspiration around you, and offer your piece to those you encounter. Try out the tactics you like and then make them your own. Add your own flare, be uniquely yourself! We’ll be back on Friday to close out our first week of Toys Go Out. Stay curious, kind, and safe.