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Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party and Toys Come Home

A number of teachers have kindly shared some of their Toys classroom activities and discussion questions with me, allowing me to modify and post them on this teacher resource page -- most particularly the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, where Toys Go Out was the "One School One Book" choice in 2007. Toys Go Out has been an all-school read at many elementary schools nationwide.

I also enourage you to check out the Random House Teacher Guides to both books, which are thoughtful and useful. Here's the one for Toys Go Out. And here's the one for Toy Dance Party. There's also a teacher-created "reader's theater" script for Toys Go Out, chapter one, written for nine child actors (pdf).


  • "Plasticness": What are things made of plastic? What does Plastic learn from TV and the dictionary about plastics -- and what is plastic, the material, actually? Come to think of it, what is rubber? Ask students to bring in 5 items from home that are made of plastic, and some made of rubber.
  • Sinkers and Floaters: StingRay is a sinker. Plastic is a floater. What other items sink and float? There is a science experiment here.
  • Tails: Lumphy loses his tail. What might he have used it for, were he a "real" buffalo? What do the tails of other animals do for them? What might happen if they were to lose their tails? A nice book pairing here is What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins (no relation). Students might write their own stories about an animal losing a tail.
  • Games: The toys play checkers, leap frog and pick-up sticks. Plastic annoys everyone during the checkers game. How come? Students might discuss sportsmanship and play some of the games themselves.
  • Sting rays and buffaloes: There are loads of interesting facts (and truths!) about these animals. (By the way, Lumphy is an American buffalo, also known as a bison, not an African or Asian buffalo.) Have children research them in groups and present their findings to their peers.
  • Favorite toys: Children can bring favorite dolls or stuffed animals to class, and write or share stories and details about their toys. On this day, groups can make cupcakes and have a tea party, like the Little Girl does at the end of the book.
  • Dance Party: The youngest readers can have a dance party, with or without toys.

  • In chapter one of Toys Go Out, StingRay says, "it's not so bad if you don't complain." Do you complain, ever? Does it make you feel better? Or worse? How does it make others feel when someone is complaining?
  • Lumphy would rather be warned about something that he won't like. Would you? Why, or why not?
  • The Girl says her toys are her best friends. What makes someone a best friend? Can we always say that one friend is best, or are there different sorts of friends, with different qualities? Are there different ways of being friends? Are oldest friends the same as best friends? Do you think the Little Girl loves one toy more than the others? Why or why not?
  • What is the difference between a truth and a fact? Are they the same?
  • Lumphy is afraid of the washing machine -- and comes to love it. (Him.) Have you ever been afraid of something and come to love it, later? What? How did that happen? Did you learn anything from that experience?
  • What are subliminal messages? Can you think of any that people try to give you? Or which you give them?
  • StingRay and her friends discuss what it means to be grown-up in chapter six. What do you think it means to be grown-up? Is there more than one way to define it? What things do grown-ups do that children don't?

  • Before reading Toys Go Out , Toy Dance Party or Toys Come Home, photocopy Zelinsky's illustrations and have students write their own stories inspired by them.
  • Have students write dialog for two of their own toys, trying to give each toy a voice of its own.
  • Write an encounter between a toy and an appliance.

    Picture books with toys come to life, one way or another:
    Dahlia, by Barbara McClintock
    I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, by Emma Chichester Clark
    The Paper Princess, by Elisa Kleven
    Traction Man is Here! by Mini Grey

    Some books for ages 6-9 that feature animated toys:
    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
    The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson
    Raggedy Ann Stories, by Johnny Gruelle
    Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne
    The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks, illustrated by Brock Cole
    Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden
    The Doll People, by Anne M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brian Selznick  

    Invisible Inkling series

    Topics related to the first book in the series, Invisible Inkling-- bullying, immigration, endangered species, making ice cream, boys' friendship. For Invisible Inkling: Dangerous Pumpkins -- Halloween, pumpkin-carving, costumes, ghosts.

    For book-talks, the trailer of Emily talking to Inkling might be useful.

    Click here for the official Invisible Inkling discussion guide with extension activities.
    Click here for a printable invisible friend classroom activity, and here for a printable dangerous pumpkin classroom activity.

    Fun tidbit: the Invisible Inkling series is set at the same school (though fictionalized) as inspired Jon Scieszka's Spaceheads! P.S. 58 in Brooklyn.

    Water in the Park: A Book about Water and the Times of the Day
    The book takes you through the different hours of a day, showing the rhythms and patterns of life in the park, so it's easy to connect to lessons on telling time. is a math book that contains a comical but factual explanation of American coins and their value, and a set of math problems that can be written out by students as the characters sell lemonade at different prices. It's also about entrepreneurship, and set-up costs as related to profits.

    Water in the Park interior image

    Two books that inspired Water in the Park:
    The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by H.A. Rey
    White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

    Other books that take you through a day in a poetic way:
    All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Nikki McClure
    All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee


    Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money
    Lemonade is a math book that contains a comical but factual explanation of American coins and their value, and a set of math problems that can be written out by students as the characters sell lemonade at different prices. It's also about entrepreneurship, and set-up costs as related to profits.

    Here is artist G. Brian Karas's blog post on how he did the art for Lemonade in Winter.

    Lemonade in Winter interior image

    Some good money-related picture books:
    The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
    Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
    The Money We'll Save by Brock Cole  

    Sugar Would Not Eat It
    Sugar has come under fire for depicting someone yelling at a cat and trying to feed it a food that's bad for it. Do your students think we should depict things like this in stories? Why or why not?

    What do kids think about the different ideas Leo's friends have for getting Sugar to eat the cake?

    There's lots of room for discussion here about obedience, trying new foods, eating hated foods, and various family approaches to eating. The book might also be a nice jumping-off point for discussions of animal care and healthy eating.

    Sugar Drinks  

    The Little Bit Scary People
    This book is about fear, and it's also about recognizing the humanity in people who are different from ourselves, even when those people behave in scary ways.

    Books about fear:
    Garmann's Summer by Stian Hole
    There's a Monster at the End of this Book! from Sesame Street
    Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

    What Happens on Wednesdays
    This is a good first-month-of school book for pre-k to first grade. It charts a typical day's schedule in a reassuring way. It allows children to compare the kinds of activities at school with the activities at home and in the neighborhood.

    It's also a book which emphasises the sense of the self in the community, which is a large part of many kindergarten curriculums. Children can name the elements of their own neighborhoods which are important to them. Older students can draw maps and label their favorite spots. They can go on walking tours of the neighborhood around school, then come back and draw what they saw -- or build it with blocks. The group can discuss how there are public landmarks (the library, the grocery store) and private landmarks (the tree where the umbrella once was stuck, my friend's house, and so on).

    Here's a useful interview with artist Lauren Castillo.

    Mapping Neighborhoods:
    Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
    Lentil, by Robert McClosky
    Madlenka and Madlenka's Dog, by Peter Sis
    Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

    Books on starting school:
    Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
    My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells

    My Favorite Thing
    These books work well for discussions of individuality and difference, self-esteem and self-expression. Some school groups have made lists of favorite things and posted them around the classroom. Others have drawn pictures of hated clothes and beloved ones.
    Books about strong likes and dislikes:
    I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child
    Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

    On the subject of clothing and how it shapes our identity, Daffodil pairs well with:
    Halibut Jackson, by David Lucas
    Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
    Fancy Nancy, by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
    Timothy Goes to School, by Rosemary Wells
    Traction Man is Here, by Mini Grey

    Daffodil Crocodile
    For Pre-K students, this book is fun to connect with study of animal sounds and discussions of what animals students would like to be -- and why. For older children, teachers have done mask-making activities and worked with papier mache.
    Pairs nicely with:
    Alligator Boy by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode

    This book might be used for discussing friendships that blossom despite prohibitions. Or, skunks, obviously.
    On the subject of friendships in the face of difficulty:
    The Other Side of the Fence, by Jacqueline Woodson

    That New Animal
    This book can be useful in discussions of anger and change within families, as well as for learning about babies. Teachers have also used it for units on dogs.
    Some excellent new baby books:
    Smile, Lily!  by Candace Fleming
    What the No-Good Baby is Good For, by Elise Broach, illustrated by Abby Carter
    I Kissed the Baby!  by Mary Murphy
    Peter's Chair, by Ezra Jack Keats
    On the subject of anger, I also recommend:
    When Sophie Gets Angry… by Molly Bang
    I Hate You! I Love You! by Tomek Bogacki

    Stellar dog books:
    McDuff Moves In by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
    Dog Blue, by Polly Dunbar
    Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer
    Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant
    The Very Kind Rich Lady and her 100 Dogs, by Chinlun Lee
    The Bea and HaHa books
    These are very short stories of toddler friendship, appropriate for the preschool classroom.
    Friendship/Relationship books for the very youngest readers:
    Max and Ruby books, by Rosemary Wells
    Maisy stories, by Lucy Cousins
    Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems
    Big Sister Little Sister, by LeUyen Pham  

    Five Creatures 

    The idea for this book came from a venn diagram I drew, sorting the separate and overlapping qualities of members of my household. The book can be used as a companion to math activities in sorting, making sets, counting, and diagramming. It can also be used as a starting point for discussing children's different family compositions, including pets, and for drawing family portraits.
    For math concepts, pairs well with: 
    12 Ways to Get to 11, by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Bernie Karlin
    One Hundred is a Family, by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Benrei Huang
    17 Things IÕm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
    Ninety-Three in My Family, by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Mike Lester  

    Love You When You Whine
    This book is an expression of unconditional love despite a child's imperfections and occasional naughtiness.  Can be used to remind young school children of their parents' love – and for conversations about pleasant and unpleasant behavior. Children can make drawings that express different strong emotions they feel: anger, happiness, fear, love.
    Some quality books for discussing manners and behavior:
    What Do You Say, Dear? by Seslye Johnson, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
    How to Behave and Why by Munro Leaf
    No, David! by David Shannon
    Miss Nelson is Missing, by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall
    How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
    Recommended love books:
    You're Just What I Need, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Julia Noonan
    You and Me, Little Bear, by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth
    The Hello, Goodbye Window, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Rashka