Newman, Leslea. “Sparkle Boy”, Lee & Low Books, 2017.
Casey Shines and Sparkles
I always look forward to a new book from Leslea Newman who was once of the first authors I reviewed when I started doing this some ten years ago. From “Heather Has Two Mommies’” to Matthew Shepard, we have seen Newman’s versatility and sincerity in her writings. It is interesting that on the day “Sparkle Boy” arrived in my mailbox, I had just finished reading an article on why glitter should be banned from Pride parades and had really never thought much about it aside from the fact that it is really difficult to clean up when those shiny little specks are everywhere. Yet glitter is something else since it makes us shine and in its own way, it emphasizes the differences in us all. When I opened the mailer in which “Sparkle Boy” was mailed, the first thing I noticed was that the cover had glitter on it. Knowing Newman’s writing style, I already knew that the story within would sparkle as much, if not more than the cover.
Casey is a young boy who loves his playthings— his blocks, his puzzles and his toy truck but he also loves things that boys are not “supposed” to love such as those that sparkle and gleam like his sister’s Jessie’s bracelet, glittery nail polish and her skirt that shimmers. Casey wants things like that yet even though his parents and his grandmother are okay with that, Jessie is not. It seems that young Jessie has already formulated her ideas on gender but that changed when two older boys teased him because of what he was wearing. This made Jessie realize that her brother had every right to be who he is and wear what he wants. I love seeing that Casey’s family embraces his rebellion against a dress code based upon a social construct dictated by society. Jessie wants that she and Casey can both love things that sparkle
Casey loves to play with his blocks, puzzles, and dump truck, but he also loves things that sparkle. We all have the right to be whoever we want and dress however we want as the gender binary becomes more and more outdated every day. For some it might take a sweet and heartwarming story like this one to realize that. After all, life is about acceptance, respect, and the freedom to be oneself. With beautiful illustrations by Maria Mola, Newman wonderfully captures the innocence of youth and envisions a world where we can all be ourselves. We also see the pleasures of a family that cares and lets us know that we can each shine in our own ways. Isn’t it fascinating that Jessie teaches us about acceptance and understanding and that it was actually a part of her own learning process.
What I really appreciate about Leslea Newman is that we never know it advance what will be the next topic she will write about and regardless of what it is, she glitters and gleams like Casey. There is always some issue in society that needs to be addressed and we can be pretty sure that Newman will be there to introduce them in her own inestimable way. I always seem to ruin into Leslea a couple of times each year, after all, we both live in the same state, and the next time I see her I will have glitter on somewhere and she and I, like Casey, can sparkle together.