BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exotic Pet: Sparky! by Jenny Offill

"YOU CAN HAVE ANY PET YOU WANT, AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T NEED TO BE WALKED OR BATHED OR FED."

Mom has always said no to her daughter's requests for a pet.

No bird. No bunny. No and no again to the trained seal.

But this girl doesn't give up. She cruises the library for ideas, and when the librarian offhandedly hands her the S volume of the encyclopedia, she finds the article on the Sloth. She reads that they sleep in their trees most of the time, eat the foliage, and only drink dew from the leaves.

Definitely a low-maintenance pet!

Her sloth arrives express mail.

MY MOM WAS NOT HAPPY.

BUT A PROMISE IS A PROMISE.

Apparently, low-maintenance in a pet also means low energy. The girl, however, has high hopes for her pet. He's pretty cute lying on his limb, but he sleeps for two days while she camps hopefully underneath his tree. Still, she is sure he can be fun to play with. With infinite optimism, she names her limp new pet Sparky.

But Sparky doesn't play games very well. In fact, he always lets her win--except at Statue. Sparky wins that one going away.

The girl's prissy classmate Mary Potts is not impressed. Her cat dances on its hind legs on cue, she points out. What can Sparky do? she asks.

Challenged, the girl counters that she is planning a Trained Sloth Extravaganza for the next weekend, with Sparky as the star, and invites Mary Potts and the neighbors to the show.

But sloth training requires a lot of patience, she learns.

HE TOOK SO LONG TO FETCH THAT I WENT INSIDE AND HAD DINNER WHILE I WAITED!

... BUT A PROMISE IS A PROMISE!

Mom gets into the swing of the thing and offers deck chairs and cookies and lemonade for the spectators, and the big day finally comes. Will Sparky rise to the occasion? Will he even wake up and move?

Jenny Offill's Sparky! (Schwartz and Wade, 2014) takes a tongue-in-cheek look at pet training that will resonate with kids whose pets don't quite live up to their original expectations. With wry, dead-pan delivery, her little pet owner gives it her all, and wisely seems to come down on the side of valuing Sparky's huge capacity for constant companionability despite his total lack of pet pizzazz.

Artist Chris Appelhans gets into the spirit of this quietly comic tale, limiting his palette to three colors in his understated but charming illustrations of Sparky, who manages to be quite cute while doing absolutely nothing at all until the final page, where he gives his devoted owner, who joins him on his branch, an approving smile. Definitely not a story for fast-break action fans, this picture book has a special appeal to kids who dig ironic, offbeat humor. Kirkus stars their review with this peppy endorsement: "A serene, funny addition to the new-pet genre'."

For more of Jenny Offill's off-beat humor, try her 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore (see review here) and 11 Experiments That Failed.

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