My daughters and I found Sparky! at our town library. I have vague recollections of having heard of this book, but we have never read it. Sparky! is a picture book written by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans.
As the story begins, our narrator is asking for a pet. Her mother says that she can only have a pet that “doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” Well, our narrator is clever, and after doing some research, she concludes that a sloth meets those restrictions.
The little girl is not sure what to make of her new sloth, who she names “Sparky”. She tries to play games with him, but Sparky is not very good at games. After Mary Potts, a classmate/frenemy tells the girl that her pets know tricks, the girl insists that Sparky knows tricks too. She decides to put on an Extravaganza featuring Sparky- can she teach Sparky to do amazing tricks in a week?
The illustrations are just lovely. Appelhans uses a subdued color palette, with lots of browns and greys against a white background. There are some pops of color: the girl’s blue sweater, red writing on a box or sign, etc. Sparky is adorable, although he is often sleeping. Facial expressions play an important role; the girl is smiling when she introduces Mary to Sparky, but her expression changes when Mary dismisses Sparky for not being able to do anything.
I don’t always like to give away what happens in the story, but needless to say, Sparky does not perform tricks at the Extravaganza like a trained seal. The little girl is disappointed, but this is not a sad story. Instead, we are treated to a beautiful message of accepting people for who they are. Who cares what Mary thinks? She’s a mean girl who values her pets for what they can do rather than who they are.
This story teaches us about expectation vs. reality. The little girl knew the characteristics of sloths, and she is not disappointed about Sparky until Mary makes her comments. This is a teachable moment about how friends behave; friends don’t make unkind remarks. This serves as a reminder of how to treat others in addition to what to look out for in social interactions.
I would absolutely recommend Sparky!. I love finding books that serve as modern parables that pass along values that I would like to instill. Sparky might not be able to do tricks, but he is able to teach us to value others for who they are.