Meet Chris Parsons, author, A Little Spark: Interview by Melissa Couch Salim

What a beautiful, pure and ideal story. Don’t we all want to live in Lake Zuron..that is before “LIFE” takes over?! What inspired the story? I have always liked stories where the underdog or the unlikely hero steps up and saves the day. We all cheer for the unlikely hero because we somehow see ourselves in that character. I have created quite a few stories and characters over the years that have a similar construct.

I traveled a lot with my job in the world of high-tech, and I would use the “plane” time to work on my stories and characters.  I would take out my computer, and rather than deal with all those emails and PowerPoints, I would sit there with a smile on my face and work on my stories.

It was on one of those plane rides from London to Washington that I had a flash of inspiration about a little mouse named Spark. It was a story about the tiniest of creatures – a lowly mouse – who, through his own self-confidence, steps up to the plate and saves the day. I expanded the story based on that one plot point, and as the words flowed, I saw more and more clearly a bigger concept: anyone can do amazing things. We all have the ability to lift ourselves up. Every single person can “Be That Spark.” On subsequent plane rides, I added to the story and soon began sharing it with friends. The response was encouraging, and it motivated me to focus on bringing the story, the music, and the characters to life.

You grew up in a beautiful part of the world. How much of your upbringing and your own life experience was part of the story? I grew up in the scenic small fishing community of Flatrock, Newfoundland. It was a wonderful place where I was surrounded by family, music, and storytellers. My father was a great storyteller. As a young kid I listened intently to their stories, and I wanted to learn more about the world, the places, and the people they spoke of.

When our kids were small, my wife Kathleen and I read the classics to them and I began adding my own stories to the mix. The audience for these stories grew to include a wider circle of kids. I truly enjoyed their reaction. Every story had a lesson, and I felt good about sharing them.

I continued to create these stories and colorful characters mostly for my own enjoyment. I decided I wanted to develop these stories and aspired to one day become an author. But of course, like with most dreams, life happened, and it took me down a totally different path.

My kids, Maggie and Kealan, were front and center in my mind when I finally took that big step a few years ago to formally write my first story, A Little Spark. They kept telling me that I should write these stories down so others could enjoy them.

I really enjoyed the “interactive” part of this book. It brought the characters to life and made the book a “musical” of sorts when you least expected it.  What inspired you to incorporate music? Going back to growing up in Newfoundland, I wanted to recreate that immersive experience including the storytelling with fun music and colorful characters. I wanted the music to be an embedded in the story – an extension of the story. There’s been lots of research on how music enhances the development in children,, and when you combine music with reading aloud you get something special. The music soothes our soul, stimulates our senses, and opens up our imaginations. Just like the kitchen parties back in Flatrock.

I ultimately decided to reach out to literary agents and publishers to gage interest in my book.  My concept of a fully illustrated chapter book with embedded music was dismissed – it represented a new category, and the children’s publishing industry like books that fall into an accepted genre like a picture book or a chapter book.  So, I decided to follow a different path forward. I formed a publishing start-up called Zuroam Media and assembled an amazing team of editors, illustrators, animators, and musicians to help create our own publishing platform. We have two additional “A Little Spark” books in the works with the same formula – an illustrated chapter complete with soundtrack and audiobook.

My vision for “A Little Spark” was to create an experience incorporating a great story, fantastical illustrations with a music soundtrack and an audiobook adaption. In short, to make it an interactive experience for families to read and listen to together, appealing to “kids from 2 to 82.”

During the book’s development, we had a very engaged test market of over 100 parents, grandparents, teachers and kids who provided feedback on the earlier version. This input was invaluable.  Several kids sent me letters and videos about how much they loved the book as well as some suggestions and insights. The helpful feedback was used to help finalize the book in early 2020.

As part of our “test market” efforts, we conducted a pilot project with a Grade 1 class in Dallas. The teacher read the book, and the students listened to the music and discussed the lessons – the teacher, parents, and the kids loved it. Our goal moving forward is to develop a Be That Spark program for schools/caregivers focused on helping develop positive character traits in kids utilizing lessons from the book to help teachers engage in discussion with their students. We are now working with a number of teachers and expect to launch the program later this year. 

A Little Spark shares so many amazing powerful and positive messages. What are you hoping your readers learn and takeaway?  The first thing I would like the audience to take away is that A Little Spark is more than a book. It is a platform for parents and children to engage and share important life lessons.

A Little Spark is meant to instill values and embolden children to act with kindness by teaching the following:

  • The importance of believing in yourself
  • Don’t judge others too quickly
  • Friends look after friends
  • Everyone deserves a second chance
  • Understand the situation
  • Everyone should be treated equally

The main lesson from the book is to look for ways to Be That Spark. No matter how small you think you are, even you can make a positive difference. We never know what the smallest act of kindness will spark in others: it could be something as simple as a kind word to a classmate, a “good morning” to an elderly neighbor, giving books and toys to charity, helping a younger sibling – not all Sparks have to be grand gestures. These opportunities abound; we just need to be looking for them. There’s a line in the theme song “A Little Spark” which goes like this – “no more selfies, turn your camera out. And make a connection, that’s what this is about.” This is good advice for all of us.

How do you create such colorful and authentic characters? It started with music – I had all these songs, and one day I walked into this studio in Dallas and met the incredible Bruce Faulconer and our collaboration began – 18 months later, we had an album, and the characters had a voice. I think adding musical elements to a story can bring it alive and make it more engaging for kids.

The audiobook was really an extension of that approach – and of course, we had voice actor Brandon McInnis as the narrator who actually sang a song from the book called “I’m Back.” The voices from the audiobook added another layer to the characters – Ted Bear with his southern drawl, Oliver with his proper English accent.

The characters in the book come from many places. The cats and the dogs in the story are based on my own pets from the Parsons Zoo – including the lovable Ned Newf and his sister Nina (Aka Bear and Abbey). There are a number of characters based on people I have met along the way. Vinny, the wheeling dealing racoon, is based on the lead character from the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” The audiobook gives Vinny a unique voice – sounding a lot like Joe Pesci – perfect for a wheeler and dealer. 

Where do you come up with the character and city names? They are all so different and fun! The names were influenced by the people and places I encountered along the way. Some of the character names come from our own pets like “Char”  the cat is really Charlie, our wonderful 20-year-old ragdoll cat. The name Scabes (the nasty creatures) is actually an acronym created using the first letter of the names of our 6 pets – Scrappy, Charlie, Abbey, Bear, Elli, Spanky.

Some names were based on awesome friends I have had over the years like Mayor Ted Bear who is based on an incredible man who lives in Savannah – A wise and kind southern gentleman. The name Veen comes from the Irish/Newfoundland word Sleveen which means an untrustworthy and sneaky person – perfect for Veen the weasel!

The town names were created in my imagination – I came up with literally hundreds of words and combinations. I tested a number of these with folks from the test market to see how they would be viewed.  I wanted new words which had their own meaning like Zuron and Toroam. The combination of these two words allowed me to create the most important name of all – Zuroam.    

Who is Spark in your life that inspired the character of such bravery, kindness, compassion and leadership? We all have many “Sparks” in our lives who touch us and shape who we become along life’s journey. For me it starts with my family – my mother and father had a major impact on my life and the lives of so many others.

I grew up and went to elementary school in a very small town, so commuting to the city for high school with my siblings was a big deal for us. It was a huge school with lots of cool kids and we always felt a little out of place as we were considered “from the outports,” a less sophisticated bunch with a strong accent.

I remember sitting with my mother and father and telling them that I was thinking about running for Student Council – throwing my hat in the ring. That conversation changed my life. They not only told me that it was a wonderful idea, but they were convinced that I would make a great Student President. That encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to step forward and to believe in myself. I won.

The whole process of my parents believing in me and my classmates standing with me had such a positive impact on my life.

There have been numerous Sparks along the way from that elementary school teacher who inspired me to a boss and a friend I worked for who ended every conversation with me with the words – “Do great things today!”

We all can be that Spark by helping those who need a hand up, a break, a chance – someday you may need your own Spark.

EQUALITY is a surprise message towards the end of the book. That message is so important given today’s climate. What do you hope for your children and future generations when it on this important topic?  This particular lesson is embedded through the book. Spark, the lowly “Streeter” surprises everyone and steps up and saves Zuroam. His courage and compassion help transform their world to where equality is finally realized. This story should be used to help children see that we all have amazing talents and that we should not judge based on how someone looks, where they come from or whether they are big or small. We are all created equal.

My hope is that the story can be used by parents as an example of what equally looks like. Using the book as a reference, parents can add their perspective and experience to the discussion to help reinforce this important message. To quote Spark:

“We would like for our towns to be officially joined together, and for all creatures to be declared equal. No more Supervisors, or Streeters, or Providers. Nothing but animals, working together to
make our town the best it can be!”

ZUROAM (zu-roam)

A place where everyone matters

Where friends take care of each other,

Where everyone gets a second chance,

Where dreams come true!

So, I googled it and took me straight to your page where I found the word and next to it, it read: “Don’t bother to google it-it’s our special word.”

Visit Here’s a brief video….How the book works – 2 mins video overview


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