Spork – Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, Kids Can Press, 2010
Have you ever felt that you just don’t fit in? Perhaps each of your parents are different and you live in a society where “Mixing was uncommon.” Although you know some proud individuals who defy convention, you are unable to comfortably negotiate your own unique identity. The little utensil of Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault’s affecting and unpretentious tale learns a lesson that may apply to you, even if you are not the resident of a flatware drawer.
We meet Spork and learn about his parentage on the opening pages. He has a wide and innocent round face like a spoon, but his fork ancestry shows as three short tines extending from his forehead. His mother, dressed, or rather engraved, somewhat like a 1920s flapper, adores him, as does his dapper tie-wearing fork father. But other members of the kitchen look down on him. Spork looks sadly on his odd reflection on the side of a toaster and resolves to be what he is not: one thing only. Wearing a natty bowler hat to conceal his fork features doesn’t work, and nor does a pointy paper crown cover up his spoon DNA. Arsenault’s pictures feature juicers, corkscrews, and egg timers with comic features, looking a bit like Miró’s biomorphic figures floating in space. Spork’s quirky face manages to evoke a range of emotions, from desolation to joy.
Then a bright splotch of action painting arrives to save Spork’s grey and white world. This “messy thing” is too young and unprejudiced to care about fine distinctions when it just needs a way to feed itself. A giant infant with a big smile and a jar of baby food finds Spork the greatest thing since sliced bread. All of a sudden, someone appreciates the very qualities that had isolated him from his peers:
“Something that could do all sorts of things at once./Something flexible and easy to hold.” Children listening to or reading the book will be relieved, although older or more inquisitive ones, as well as adults, may wish for a sequel to this charming book. Have all Spork’s problems really been resolved? What happens when the baby grows older and is pressured to choose correctly at the table? Maybe, as in Thomas Disch’s The Brave Little Toaster, Maclear and Arsenault could collaborate on a continuation where the utensils interact and their prejudices clash, but ultimately resolve. In the meantime, Spork is a sweet and simple story of for children about acceptance from an unexpected friend.