Review of the Day: Sparks Fly High
Everyone is going to have to be very patient with me for a few days. I cannot, for the life of me, download pictures onto Blogger at the moment. This is very frustrating. I like having the option of showing you the books I'm reviewing. For now I'll link to the title and leave it at that, but surely there's some workaround I'm not seeing. Give me time. And now the review!
Dear Leonid Gore,
I have missed you. When it comes to picture book illustrators you’ve a style that one cannot compare to anyone else’s. I first fell in love with your work when I had the good fortune to pick up a copy of Janice del Negro’s, “Lucy Dove”. Your art on that folktale was without compare. Simultaneously creepy and lovely all at once. For some time now I’ve waited patiently for you to illustrate something, heck ANYTHING, that had the same emotional oomph. Finally, some eight years later, you have. And for that, m'dear, I thank you.
A Devoted Fan
That is the letter I would write to Leonid Gore if I had the guts to seek out his publisher’s address. And yes, I mean every word. When “Sparks Fly High” plopped down on the center of my desk, I was elated. Here, at last, was a picture book that could seriously be called “beautiful”. It’s been a while since Leonid Gore did a good old-fashioned folktale, but finally one has arrived that is worthy of his attention. Thank author Mary Quattlebaum then for having the wherewithal to attentively research and bring to life this fabulous original American tale. A great find for those lucky enough to locate it.
Now there once was a man by the name of Colonel Lightfooot. He was a bright and bonny fellow and one heckuva fabulous dancer. “No sooner could he stand than he was prancing, no sooner prancing than kicking his baby booties high”. And talk about conceited. This fellow was a braggart through and through, but definitely a nice guy deep down. Just conceited. Now the one thing Lightfoot loved more than his dancing was his land. It was almost entirely perfect, except for a rough patch that got bigger and boggier every year. The rumor was that the devil stomped it down, but Colonel Lightfoot paid the rumor little mind until he stepped out one fine evening. Sparks are emanating from the bog and ruin Lightfoot's fine clothes causing him to confront the villain in his pasture. Man and demon meet and the devil (who obviously doesn’t listen to his Charlie Daniels) challenges the landowner to a duel. A dancing duel! Lightfoot accepts, but soon finds that though he tires, the devil never does. So it takes some quick thinking and wits to outsmart the bad guy and win the day in the end.
Well-written stuff. In her Author’s Note at the end, Quattlebaum (who wins my personal award for Best Storyteller Name Ever) recounts how she heard of this tale in the first place. Dancing Point is a real patch of ground not far from Colonial Williamsburg and was indeed owned by Colonel Philip Lightsfoot back in the day. Generations of Virginians have told his tale, and Quattlebaum even goes so far as to include numerous published accounts from which she drew resource material for this story. Quattlebaum also does a perfectly lovely job of putting the book’s tale into a fun-to-read text. In it you may find sentences like, “Oh, the waggy, braggy tongue of the man”, or, “He could still romp through the most rollicking reel”. At the same time, she recounts the tale faithfully and with just the right hints of humor. And then there are Leonid Gore’s illustrations.
If you have not had the pleasure of reading a book illustrated by Mr. Gore, you are in luck. In this tale his pictures fairly glow. Light emanates off the page. If you were to shut off all the lamps in your living room, you would half expect the pictures in this book to exude a light entirely of their own. Lightfoot is handsome and dashing in his white wig and fine buckled shoes. The devil, in contrast, is a particularly snappy dresser, outfitted with the reddest of skin and a ruffled shirt of fine pedigree. And the sparks that fly out of that icky muddy swamp just leap off the page. It makes for a delightful read.
So why are people going to object to this book? They will, you know. It’s only a matter a time. If they do, it is because there is a devil in it. Now the devil in this book is an evil, crafty, nasty villain. Your stereotypical horns, pointed tail, and hoofs type fella (albeit with a ruffly puffy shirt as well). He is not a good guy. He is a bad guy. But no matter how many times I say it, people somewhere are going to be offended by this book. Don’t believe me? Examine the evidence. People have banned representations of the devil in everything from the Caldecott winning, “Duffey and the Devil” to Natalie Babbitt’s, “The Devil’s Storybook”. Even if you’re talking about the devil as a someone to be defeated, some folks just don’t like him in their children’s picture books whatsoever. So if you should know someone with an overly protective nature, do not go about handing them this book.
An excellent complement to this story might be the Irish-inspired picture book, “The Dancing of Biddie Malone”. One deals with a devil and one with fairies, but both give definite props to a good rousing high-step about the countryside. A fine colonial American addition to one’s household and a heavenly read. Great fun.