Author: Bob Shea
Publisher: Disney Book Group (Hyperion)
[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked to write a minimum number of words and to be honest. Done. The copy I read and reviewed was prepared for NOOK via Adobe Digital Editions.]
This is a short book that is highly enjoyable both for it's delightful artwork and for it's whimsical storyline about two friends learning about compromise, friendship, and honesty. It's a simple enough book to read and understand from an author who has demonstrated an ability to write stories that make connections with young readers in a variety of situations (see Dinosaur vs. series).
I think it is a hard lesson to learn, as humans, that real friendship is a difficult water to navigate precisely because it entails things we'd rather not think about–things like compromise and honesty. Children seem to understand these things, but I think even children tend to get caught up in the mayhem of 'one-upism'. I see this a lot in special education where children often come from such environments where family or economic struggles obscure these things for one reason or another. I have no explanation for why it seems to be so, but in my experience working in special education I see a tendency among my students towards selfishness and an unwillingness to compromise even in the smallest areas of social interaction. It could be their particular diagnosis; it could be environmental. Others can tell us why, I'm concerned that it is so and that the classroom becomes a training ground where these things–not taught in other environments–are learned and perpetuated.
Ballet Cat has it all worked out and seems to push towards playing 'ballet' every day: "We play ballet every day, Ballet Cat," grumbles Sparkles the Sparkle Pony. Then Sparkle engages, less than enthusiastically in Ballet play until he simply can take it no more and slouches to the floor in despair. He is sad, frustrated, and defeated and has to muster up the courage to tell Ballet Cat the truth that 'Sometimes [he doesn't] want to play ballet!' His other fear is that in telling the truth to Ballet Cat he might lose his friend. In the end, however, Ballet Cat is a gracious friend and reveals to Sparkle Pony that he is more important to her than playing Ballet every day. (I'm using 'he' and 'she' carefully since it could be that Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony are not, in fact, 'she' and 'he'. I don't think the identity of their sex is of particular importance in the story.)
The author makes it clear that friendship involves two things: compromise and honesty. Ballet Cat must learn to compromise; Sparkle Pony must risk friendship by being perfectly honest. It's also important to learn that we can have differing opinions, differing likes, differing opinions and that in the end these differences, and our honesty about these differences, do not have to spoil a good friendship. This is a helpful book and I think it would serve its purpose well in the midst of a classroom and especially in a special education classroom such as mine.
The only problems I had with the book are 1) that I didn't particular care for the way it rendered on my NOOK reader. It read like a comic strip. It's supposed to be 56 pages, but rendered as 30 on my NOOK. 2) I'm not sure why Sparkle Pony is called Sparkle Pony. There's nothing about the Pony that sparkles. He is covered with three giant polka dots, but no sparkles. Perhaps this will change, but in my review copy it was kind of strange. Otherwise, I very much like the art work and I like how the dialogue is printed in call-out boxes–which may lend itself to a reader's theater type reading of the story. The artwork is happy and, I think, conveys the proper emotive feel at just the right times. The color palette is simple, but captivating.
Really I like this book very much, exceptions noted, and will most certainly purchase a copy for my classroom. It is designed for younger readers–the inside cover says ages 6-8, grades 1-3. That might be appropriate, but I think by the time a student is in third grade they are beginning to understand these things and this book may not be age appropriate. I might actually lower this to say Pre-K-K as it might be too 'babyish' for a second and/or third grade student. That's my opinion and it is not necessarily a statement of scientific accuracy. It's a statement of my experience working with boys that age and raising three of my own.