Literary Reviews

Midwest Book Review - Diane Donovan

Sprout is a contemporary philosophical fairy tale that, on the surface, appears to be written for elementary to middle grade readers. In reality, its gentle message will reach all ages (well into adult audiences) with a compelling tale. Sprout was out of print for years before a niece who had loved her uncle's book forty-three years earlier decided it needed to be reprinted after he passed.

Sporting new, creative illustrations by Taylor Suzenski, Sprout returns to the fold of timeless classics that outlive their creators to promise added impact to generations of future readers with its evocative story of a coming-of-age gift that prompts a young boy to record life lessons and observations.

The fact that this republication was a family effort that involved non-writers in the process of revising and producing a work that holds all the trappings of a creative writer's best effort is only one facet that lends to Sprout's appeal. Widows, daughters, friends, sisters, and nieces all joined together to put their best into this revised edition. And, it

Central to Sprout's appeal is a series of messages about life, the world, and adventures that impart basic insights into the nature of goodness, courage, acceptance, and self-discovery.

Thus, readers receive a series of enlightening passages that also inject unexpected humor into the story: "At first, Sprout thought some mistake had been made, that this could not possibly be a dragon-slaying knight. But above and behind the Knight’s head, on a wooden plaque fastened to the wall, carved in large bold letters was the title Dragon Slayer. Beneath that, someone had scrawled on the wall with a piece of charcoal, “And slayer of many a flagon.”
In some ways, the irony of flawed heroes and good intentions brings to mind The Wizard of Oz, in which the heroic adventurers each discover that the thing they think they lack and want most from their journey already resides in their hearts and actions.

Sprout offers similar revelations, albeit in a very different story that embraces both appearances and the messages of underlying countenances beneath them. Richard P. Gleason's storytelling assumes a chatty revelation that embraces his readers as these insights evolve: "If you haven’t guessed by now, the old woman wasn’t exactly as kind as she tried to appear. It is an unfortunate fact of life that some people are far less than what they appear to be. For
whatever reason, some people grow up all twisted and turned in upon themselves so that they act badly, or are “bad acts,” depending on how you arrange your words. Bad-acting people are those who do bad things. They are people whose lives are ruled by verbs like lying, cheating, stealing, tricking, and many others. Which, I’m sure you and I know, are things not to do."

No matter the age of the reader, Sprout will spark debates and thought-provoking inspections of self and life. Ideally, it will be chosen for read-aloud by parents who enjoy interacting with their kids through fantasy adventures that hold more than light references to real life dilemmas, and will be picked up by book clubs interested in philosophical stories with lessons that appeal to all ages.

At the least, Sprout needs to return to a place of prominence on library shelves, and displayed and highlighted for its timeless messages and relevance.

The Children's Book Review

When Sprout's father presents him with a beautifully bound book as a birthday
present, he is delighted—he loves books! However, when he discovers the book is
blank inside, he is puzzled. His father explains that this is his book, it's to be the story
of his life which he must write himself. Like the dutiful son he is, Sprout sets off to
have some experiences to inspire his writing. From a Knight who doesn't quite live
up to his tall tales to a librarian who delivers more questions than answers and a
Wizard who is both an owl and a forest, Sprout finds plenty to write in his book
along the way, and—what is more important—wisdom.

Written like many of the Jack stories in traditional fairy tales, Sprout is an engaging
adventure story about a boy who sets off into the world to find his fortune and
himself. Like many traditional fairytales, there are parables and morals at every
twist of the road for Sprout. Also, like classic fairy tales, to keep things interesting,
there are dragons, knights, magic, witches, and heroines in distress. Colorful digital
illustrations lend a child-like quality to the story as the reader learns, through
Sprout's encounters, about the basic building blocks of stories and knowledge:
adjectives, nouns, verbs, and even how to construct a sound argument. A study guide and glossary at the end of the book make this story a great choice for classroom

Overall, Sprout is a fun and instructive fairytale adventure, perfect for readers
wondering how to go about writing their own life stories.

Kirkus Reviews

A boy sets out to chronicle his eventful journey in this updated version of a children’s book.

Woodsprout is born to loving parents living on a small farm. One day, his father gives him a beautiful, red leather book with blank pages. The blond-haired Sprout aims to fill it with stories and adventures, and he searches for both with a feathered quill (that doubles as a pen) in his green cap. He first comes across a miller, who gives Sprout a list of rather dour adjectives followed by, thankfully, a host of uplifting ones. Later, a librarian teaches the boy that stringing nouns and verbs together can become knowledge, so long as the statement he has created is true. A lowly knight at a local tavern is less accommodating. He has an amazing story of slaying a fire-breathing dragon, but the warrior may have left out a few key details. Meanwhile, Sprout’s own adventure awaits. A girl loses all her coins to a swindler, and Sprout vows to help, even if that means facing a wicked hag of the forest. Gleason’s entertaining story, originally published in 1987, teems with educational moments. Books, for example, are full of wonderment, as
words clearly hold power, and Sprout nearly gets lost among a library’s mazelike bookshelves. This charming protagonist aids someone without hesitation and picks up quotable life lessons, like “good deeds are their own best reward.” In the same vein, Gleason’s prose, though catered to younger readers, is indelible—Sprout’s feet crunch dried leaves, and the knight’s armor is a “clatter of squeaks and rusty groans.”

Suzenski’s (the author’s niece-once-removed) simple artwork showing the White hero and diverse characters glows with bright colors, from the purple dragon to a blue-faced, always-smiling wizard. This second edition also includes personal photographs of Gleason, who died in 2009, as well as a glossary of the book’s challenging words and a genuinely fun study guide.

A vibrant tale of youth and self-discovery for readers of all ages.