The ingenious author of
17 Things I''m Not Allowed to Do Anymore and a brilliant illustrator and production designer of the
Coraline movie have created a hilarious, touching picture book perfect for young animal lovers. Like the Caldecott Medal-winning
Officer Buckle and Gloria, Sparky stars a pet who has more to offer than meets the eye. When our narrator orders a sloth through the mail, the creature that arrives isn''t good at tricks or hide-and-seek . . . or much of anything. Still, there''s something about Sparky that is irresistible.
Winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award
PreS-Gr 1—A persistent girl asks for a pet until her mother finally relents with a caveat: "You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn''t need to be walked or bathed or fed." The school librarian leads the girl to the S volume of the animal encyclopedia, where she discovers the sloth, a creature that barely moves. When her sloth arrives, she names him Sparky, a moniker that suggests energy (unlike her new pet). The girl attempts to impose many un-sloth-like qualities on the quiet creature, playing several games with him that he is bound to lose (except for "Statue") and planning an elaborate Trained Sloth Extravaganza that is hardly eventful. While there are several attempts at humor in the text, ultimately this book is a little sad. The girl only reluctantly accepts that her pet sloth basically does nothing, and rather than embracing this quality, she finishes the book by starting a game of tag with her pet. Well-rendered watercolor and pencil illustrations in subdued hues of brown, green, and red depict a slight, spritely girl and an inexpressive sloth, and therein lies another problem with this book. Sloths are cute and huggable, but this one merely looks lost until the last page when he finally smiles a bit. For children interested in sloths, Lucy Cooke''s A Little Book of Sloth (S & S, 2013) is a much better choice, and it includes a reminder that "sloths belong in the wild and should never be kept as pets." Additional.—Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library
*Starred Review* Heres how it starts:“I wanted a pet.” The narrator’s mother agrees, “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed.” A librarian helps narrow her choices to a field of one: “Sloths are the laziest animal in the world.” After its arrival, our narrator hopefully names her sloth Sparky, but alas, he is as described in books. Sparky’s owner doesn’t mind too much until provoked by überachiever Mary Potts, who informs her that not only does she have a cat that dances but also a parrot that knows 20 words. What’s a sloth owner to do? Put on a show, promising “countless tricks” from Sparky! One of the wonderful things about this book is that there is no surprise ending. A sloth is a sloth. The show is as deadly dull as one would—or should—expect. But from that sad little event comes a moment of love so pure and elemental that it will affect readers of all ages. Offill and Appelhans have created quite a perfect package. The text is spare yet amusing and full of important messages presented in the most subtle of ways. Appelhans, whose career up to now has been in animated films such as Coraline, is a revelation. The enticing watercolor-and-pencil art, mostly in soft shades of browns and burgundies and featuring the artist’s hand lettering, captures a range of emotions, at least from the humans. Furry, flat-nosed Sparky, on the other hand, just is, and that, as it turns out, is enough. Preschool-Grade 1. --Ilene Cooper
Jenny Offill is the author of
17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore, a
Parenting Magazine Best Book of the Year and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, and
11 Experiments That Failed, also a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, which
Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, called “the most joyful and clever whimsy.” Learn more at jennyoffill.com.
Chris Appelhans was selected as the Children’s Choice Illustrator of the Year at the Children’s Choice Book Awards for
Sparky!, his first picture book. The book received two starred reviews, including one from
Booklist declaring, “Appelhans is a revelation.” Chris has also worked on several films, as an illustrator and a production designer for
Coraline, an environment designer for
Fantastic Mr. Fox, and a visual development artist for
The Princess and the Frog.