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Everyone loves SPARKY!

March 03, 2014

★  Here’s 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. – Booklist 

★ Quietly dry humor marks this story about a most unusual pet.

An unassuming girl looks straight out at readers and explains her desire for a pet. She’s not fussy, but she can’t make it happen: “My mother said no to the bird. / No to the bunny. / No, no, no to the trained seal.” Finally her mother consents—sort of: She agrees to any pet “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” After some library research, “[m]y sloth arrived by Express Mail.” Here it gets really funny. The girl waits two days, standing in moonlight and rain next to Sparky’s backyard tree, before he even awakens. She teaches him games: “We played King of the Mountain / and I won. // We played Hide-and-Seek / and I won.” Sparky never moves a muscle. Sitting on the grass, he’s stock-still; on his tree branch, he lies motionless (atop the branch, inexplicably but adorably, not hanging down in sloth fashion). Even his expression’s comically immobile. Training sessions and a performance proceed—um—at Sparky’s pace, but a beautiful closing illustration of girl and sloth together on his branch shows how close they’ve grown. Appelhans uses blue and pinky-brown watercolors and pencil on creamy background to create understated humor and affection with a light touch.

A serene, funny addition to the new-pet genre.  - Kirkus Reviews