Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

Today is a great day to celebrate one of my favorite picture books of 2014, SPARKY! I'm not the only children's literature advocate celebrating it today. You'll find enthusiastic celebrations going on over at Mr. Colby Sharp's and Margie's awesome blogs.  

Sparky! Written by Jenny Offill; illustrated by Chris Appelhans. Schwarz & Wade Books. 

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your first picture book. I’ve been sharing Sparky! and Sparky’s book trailer with all of my students. What does it feel like to walk into a bookshop and spot a book with your name printed on the dust jacket?  

Chris Appelhans: Aw thanks for sharing!  Yeah, seeing your name on a bookstore shelf is a surreal experience, both scary and amazing.  Doing the art is a solitary act, so you almost forget than anyone else will ever see what you're doing.  It's like you're singing in the shower and suddenly there's a recording of that on the radio - you think, "oh geez, i hope it's not too annoying".

Whenever I book talk Sparky!, I show this video:

Did you spend a lot of time observing sloths (ummm..they do not do much)? Watching videos? Looking at photographs? 

Chris Appelhans: I saw some sloths (what's the plural - slothi? slith?) during a trip to Costa Rica.  They were so strange and funny that I tried to channel that feeling into the drawings of Sparky.  It was also hard to design Sparky so he would be cute - sloths are pretty adorable in person but they don't always photograph well.  Except baby sloths.  Baby sloths are ridiculous - I mean come on: 

Did you have a pet as a child? What about now? 

Chris Appelhans: I did, I grew up with sheep, cows, an occasional horse + cats and dogs of course.  So I related to the idea of having an unconventional pet - a lot of our 'farm' animals weren't as affectionate as a cat or dog - but somehow you ended up really attached to them and tuned into their individual personalities.  Pets are fun, but they also teach you so much about being responsible for the life of another creature.  It's duty and joy at the same time.  I think the girl in Jenny's story realizes that.

I read that you’ve worked on animated feature films, including Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox. How did your background as an animator influence or help you when you started illustrating Sparky!? 

Chris Appelhans: It was both help and hinderance. I do mostly the character / production design and not actual animation for feature film - so I'm having to teach myself a lot about the gestures and poses that help tell a story.  Also, the film industry often wants a lot more visual bells and whistles than is appropriate for a children's book - so it was nice to scale back and try simplifying the illustrations to something (hopefully) timeless.

Please complete these sentence starters: 

Picture books are a little boat that you can sail to places impossible and amazing.

Reading is the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

I am giving away one copy of Sparky! 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from May 11 to 11:59 p.m. on May 13. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Mr. Colby Sharp interviewed author Jenny Offill. 

"This sloth and his girl will win a place in your heart. Be sure to read it to every child you often as you can." -Margie Myers-Culver 

Borrow Sparky! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


  1. I adore everything about this book! One of my favorites of 2014! Can't wait for more books by this duo!


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