Author: Jenny Offill
Illustrator: Chris Appelhans
Age Range: 4-8
Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans is a new entry into the picture book sub-genre of kids with unusual pets. The beginning of Sparky! reminded me quite a bit of A Promise Is A Promise by Florence Parry Heide and Tony Auth in which, after several crazy attempts at pets are shot down, a boy ends up with a pet parrot. In Sparky!, a girl keeps asking and asking for a pet, and is finally told that she can have a pet if she can find one that "doesn't need to be waked or bathed or fed." The girl comes up with a sloth. Sparky! is the story of what it's like to have one of "the laziest animals in the world" as one's pet.
Sparky mostly just sleeps in a tree. He's not very good at King of the Mountain or Hide-and-Seek, but he's champion at Statue. When a (not very understanding) girl from school criticizes Sparky, the narrator attempts to teach him tricks, and hosts a performance. The results are not impressive. In the end, however, (and this is conveyed in a subtle fashion) the girl makes peace with the limitations of her pet, and just appreciates him.
While unusual pet stories are fairly common, Sparky! has a nice, subtle humor that worked for me. Like this:
"That weekend, Mary Potts came over to investigate.
Let me show you what Mary Potts is like.
This is a picture of her room."
The accompanying picture shows a drawing (like a kid drew it) of a big-mouthed girl. Certificates hang on her wall for "Excellence in Permission-Slip Compliance" and "Most Likely to Chew Close-Mouthed in Lunchroom."
I think what I like is that the narrator just quietly keeps trying. She never complains about having a somewhat lame pet. When she holds a show for Sparky she dresses in a crown and cape and asks her mother "Do I look like a ringmaster?" Her mother tells her "You look very interesting." I respected the mother's ability to be honest without being mean.
Appelhans' watercolor and pencil illustrations match the tone of Sparky! He uses a muted palette and minimalist backgrounds. He perfectly captures the droopiness of Sparky pretty much all the time and the girl's quiet hopefulness.
Sparky! is not a dramatic, exciting sort of book. Instead, it's the kind of book that makes readers smile, and that you appreciate more on the second reading than on the first. Sparky! is a quiet celebration of loyalty towards an unconventional friend. I read this from a library copy, but I am strongly tempted to purchase my own copy. Recommended, particularly for first and second graders.
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
Source of Book: Library copy, checked out for Round 1 Cybils consideration in Fiction Picture Books. All opinions are my own.
© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).