By Robin GOLDSWORTHY
The author and illustrator of the children’s book, “Sparky!,” the tale of an oh-too-typical sloth, visited Once Upon A Time children’s bookstore on Thursday afternoon.
Jenny Offill penned the story about a young girl’s desire to find a pet that satisfied her mother’s restrictive requirements. But when Sparky arrives, he doesn’t quite meet the hopes she had raised.
Offill is an accomplished adult author; “Sparky!” is her third children’s book.
“I’m a slow writer for adult work,” Offill said, adding that it typically takes 10 years or so for her to write adult novels. “Sparky!” took about a month.
“When I write children’s books, I write in a kind of compressed way,” she said. “Writing for kids is much easier.”
Offill’s “17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore” and “11 Experiments That Failed” have been well-received by her young audience and, surprisingly, by elementary science teachers who have reported that the subjects spark conversation.
Offill is quick to admit that she doesn’t consider her children’s books as “message books,” though.
“Occasionally I’ll hear a comment how the book relayed this message or that one, which surprises me. My goal is to create an imaginary world where you could do things you couldn’t really do,” she said.
Learning how to do things you didn’t know you could do might best describe Chris Appelhans’ foray into the world of children’s book illustration. An illustrator and production designer (“Coraline,” “The Princess and the Frog”), Appelhans said that doing the illustration for “Sparky!” was a process of “learning on the go.”
“I didn’t get a handle on it right away,” Appelhans said. “I underestimated how much it takes to do a children’s book – it needs to be very concise.”
Offill asked that Appelhans illustrate “Sparky!” after seeing some of his other work.
“I thought he would give the book that tinge of melancholy I was looking for,” Offill said. “Not that many books show the melancholy side of childhood.”
That they worked so well together to create a fun children’s picture book is particularly surprising when one learns that they had never met each other prior to the OUAT visit.
Offill lives in New York; Appelhans is based in Los Angeles. Appelhans relied on Offill’s story to inspire him in creating Sparky’s appearance.
“From reading Jenny’s work, I interpreted that Sparky was the most lazy sloth,” Appelhans said. The extent of Sparky’s laziness is evident on the book cover where the sloth is not hanging upside down from but rather lying on a tree branch.
“He’s too lazy to hang on,” Appelhans explained.
Whether the pair will partner again remains to be seen, so for now fans are advised to treasure each page of “Sparky!”