Lol, Sparky! — And MY WILDERNESS Book Winner Announced

sparky cover 2

I don’t remember the last time I laughed out loud reading a picture book. So I bought it. Then I made my 20 year old and 17 year old read it. They chuckled and I laughed again and again.

Sparky! By Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans is my idea of a perfect picture book. Published by Schwartz and Wade I’ve really enjoyed reading it over and over trying to put into words why I like it so much.

On the cover, Sparky’s gesture is totally incongruous to his name and I am instantly intriqued. As an illustrator, I’m struck by the layout of the jacket. The tree going up the right hand side stops your eye. It puts up a wall on the right and usually the goal is to eliminate those to invite a page turn. We are taught whenever possible to direct the action, the flow from left to right. Yet, Sparky faces left and the tree blocks our path to the right. This seems yet another contradiction. Setting up the entire story of Sparky who is anything but sparky.

The premise is, “I want a pet”. A young girl pesters her mother who finally caves in saying,

“You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.”

And so, the young girl finds the only pet that meets all those requirements,

“My sloth arrived by Express Mail.”

sparky box

This was my first real chuckle. The spread shows the girl on the left side of the page, standing with a happy gesture of  joyful disbelief. The other side of the spread, facing her, is a sloth. Head, arms, legs cut out of the box. Staring at the girl with the same, unwavering expression that we will see in the illustrations to come.

Again, in this picture, Sparky faces to the left, and up the side of the right hand page is dark door. Like the tree on the cover, making our eye stop, stay still, and not keep going.

The humor here is so wonderfully subtle. The girl is trying to enjoy her pet and optimistically plays games with Sparky. Simply stating at the end of each example,

“and I won”.

sparky games

The funnies go on and on. She tries to put on a production to showcase Sparky’s talents, but, as you can imagine, that doesn’t go so well. The girl never gives up on her pet. She accepts him how is, which is the lovely point of this very funny, sweetly slow, story.

The success of this book lies in what inherently makes any picture book good. It is in the marriage of the text and the illustrations. One can’t work without the other here. Jenny Offill’s text tells us the story from the girl’s perspective. While Chris Appelhans “shows” us the reality of a game of hide and seek with a sloth. His illustrations fill in the story and make it complete. The body posture of all of his characters is so simple, yet so telling. The palate is drab, browns, rusts, very little color, very sloth-like.

On the last page and also on the last page spread, the tree is now to the left and our right is wide open, leading our eye, and the story, to move forward to the page turn and hopefully, a happy future. For the first time in the whole book, Sparky’s expression on this last spread has finally changed—

to a very simple grin.


Have you read Sparky? What did you think?


The winner of the book giveaway, My Wilderness, by Claudia McGehee is

Rebecca J. Gomez!

Congratulations, Rebecca! If you would please go to my website,, and contact me via email that would be great. Please give me your mailing information and any inscription you would like Claudia to make in the book.

I want to thank everyone for all your kind and supportive comments!

Thanks for visiting Picture Book Builders!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. Like you, I LOVED Sparky! Now your wonderful post has helped me to better understand why. Thanks. : )

  2. I too loved Sparky! Thank you for sharing all the reasons why it’s so very, very, loveable.

  3. This is such a fun book! You know it is good when it is enjoyed by adults as well as children.

  4. Sounds like a fun book. Going on the to read list. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I’ve read Sparky, and was amused by all the “contradictions.” I am not an illustrator, so enjoyed learning about the illustration side of the story.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I’m was not familiar with ‘Sparky’ but now I’m definitely going to need to get a copy.

  7. I love having you illustrators on board, Jennifer, able to explain WHY art works. Great post!

  8. Hilarious! I love that kind of dry humor. And, like Jill, I SO appreciate hearing an illustrator’s perspective on the art!

  9. One of my favorite books I read in the last year. So well written and illustrated.

  10. Congratulations Rebecca! Looking forward to signing your book. And I’ll be checking out “Sparky”, Jennifer. A sloth is one of my natural animal totems, I’m sure of it.

  11. Yes! Thanks for helping me to appreciate this book on another level.

  12. Oh yay! I was happily reading about Sparky and thinking of how I need to add this to my picture book board on pinterest. And then I saw my name as the winner. Happy Day!

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