2016-12-14 / Book Review

Sparks, The Firefly Who Saved Christmas

BY ANNETTE HANZE

“Sparks, the Firefly Who Saved Christmas,” by Edward Urbanowski is a wonderful children’s book with a message specifically for Christmas, but applies anytime.

Sparks is not a normal firefly. His glow-er does not work – a real problem for a firefly, whose very identity is one who glows. Sparks’ story hearkens back to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but he has the opposite problem that Rudolph had, who had to hide his glowing nose. But for both of them, being different means being completely rejected by one’s peers. No matter how hard Sparks and Rudolph each tried to fit in, they were forced to find their way on their own, on the fringes, isolated and rejected – a most painful position for a young one trying to find their place in the world outside the cozy confines of a loving home. And they both find out they have a very special mission in life. But Sparks’ mission is more spiritual than Rudolph’s, and involves the Holy Family.

But despite the important subject matter, this is very much a children’s book. Even the style of artwork cleverly helps children strongly identify with the main character. The illustrations, which are always of the utmost importance in children’s books, are executed by Urbanowski with a kind of naivety, like a child might create, and imperfect by conventional standards – like Sparks himself, with slightly shaky strokes, no perfect circles or squares, even the all-important glow is very subtly rendered. All this makes the story easier for a child to identify with. The art echoes a child’s position in the world, where they often feel less competent than the adults and older siblings around them, and in the school environment. The characters are small – not in-your-face, unlike a lot of art in children’s literature – reflecting many children’s lack of a confident self-image. (Like an actor playing a beginning/amateur actor, it takes an expert artist to achieve this believably, and not succumb to the temptation of broad parody.)

Yet the art is charming, the animal characters have expressive faces, and characters like the “cackling jackals” provide comic relief within the more sober tone (more likely to be appreciated in subsequent readings – and we are betting on there being many of those).

The story does not explicitly give the specifics of the setting. The art provides hints, and this encourages participation, again, maybe during a later reading. Active reading/participation generates interest and with comprehension, discernment and a feeling of accomplishment. Plenty of opportunities for this present themselves, prompting comments like “notice the trees, houses, clothes – are those like ours? Where have we seen them before?”

There are deeper topics to discuss. To quote from early in the story: “Others made fun of him, they said he was different, said he was odd. He didn’t matter to anyone in the world. And he meant nothing to God.” That might bear discussing with your child. Ask the child who is saying that – is the author saying it as a fact, does Sparks really mean nothing to God? Or is that something other characters said, or made Sparks think? What if Spark never lights up? Is he not still very important to others? Does the world need him? Do his parents love him?

The story is appropriate to a wide range of ages, even the very young. Though it is 78 pages, there is only about four short lines of text on each page.

We highly recommend this story in which Sparks, a mere bug – and somewhat lacking at that — had a higher purpose and rose to greatness due to the discovery of something much more important than himself, and the faith that that inspired.

(78 pp., color illustration published by CreateSpace Publishing, available at Barnes & Noble, $15.99; and Amazon Kindle, $3.99)

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