Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
A little girl wanted a pet but her mother would only let her have a pet that doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed. So the girl went to the library and the school librarian pointed her towards sloths. Her sloth arrived in the mail and she named him Sparky. She immediately took him to his tree where he went promptly to sleep. He didn’t wake up for two days. She tried playing games with him but they didn’t really work since the girl won every single time. The only game that Sparky could win was Statue. He was really good at it. That weekend, Mary Potts came over to see the sloth, but she didn’t approve. She said her parrot could say twenty words and her cat could walk on its hind legs. The girl said that Sparky could do tricks too, and now she would have to prove it. But what in the world can Sparky actually do?
Told in the first person by the little girl, this book celebrates a pet may not be able to do traditional tricks like other more active animals, but definitely can hold its own as a companion. Offill has created a wonderful story filled with gently funny moments like trying to play hide-and-seek with a sloth that doesn’t move. As the girl trains the sloth to do tricks, I was happy to see that Sparky remained steadfastly a sloth and didn’t change into something else at all.
Appelhans’ illustrations also have a great quietness to them. Done in watercolor and pencil, they are subtly colored, with the backgrounds and characters primarily in browns. Then there are occasional pops of red too. My favorite picture is the sloth arriving via mail with his arms, legs and head popping out of the box and the up arrow facing straight down as if he should be carried on his head.
This is a book that is slow, steady and heartfelt, just like Sparky himself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.