Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, July 31, 2017

New Pooch In Town

Children all around the world continuously cheer the existence of grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles.  Their appearance and role in gals' and guys' lives is one of constant support and surprise.  When you think they are as predictable as sunrise and sunset, they do something out of the ordinary changing your whole life.

There are probable millions of children who would never have the pleasure of enjoying life with an animal companion if it were not for these fearless family members who bestow them on grateful relatives.  Once they get over the shock most parents welcome the new addition.  Acclaimed author Patricia MacLachlan, who willingly includes dogs as characters in many of her books, presents a new early chapter book series, Barkus Book 1 (Chronicle Books, June 6, 2017) with cheery illustrations by French artist Marc Boutavant.

On a windy day, my favorite uncle, Uncle Everton, knocked on our door.  He wore a long plaid overcoat and black wool cap.

Uncle Everton was not alone. He brought Barkus, a very large, exuberant brown dog, as a present for his niece, Nicky.  Barkus was very clever, gifted in the trick department and did not bite.  To Nicky's way of thinking Barkus was perfect.

On the following Monday Nicky had to go to school assuring Barkus she would be home before he knew it.  Nicky kept turning around, sure she was being followed but no one was there.  As soon as she walked into her classroom, Barkus ran in behind her.  Barkus barked when Mrs. Gregolian wrote DOG on the blackboard.  (I told you he was clever.)

One day the mail brought a gift for Barkus, a treat from Uncle Everton for his birthday.  A snow day spoils plans for a party but that night a saddened and quiet Barkus has a wag-tastic gathering courtesy of unexpected guests.  It was a happy hubbub for everyone (even Mom and Dad).

Spring and spring vacation came but it was unexciting until Barkus brought home a baby...kitten.  Signs, phone calls and a whole lot of hope resulted in another change in Nicky's home.  To close this five chapter book, three friends discover the thrill of an overnight adventure in the backyard and the riches to be found in a story grown straight from the heart.

Some books seem to be better when you read them silently alone and others are better when read aloud with others but there are some remarkable books when read either way the story goes straight to the reader's heart.  Patricia MacLachlan is one of those authors capable of writing this type of narrative.  Many times when reading these short but delightful chapters, I found myself stopping to read a passage out loud.

Her gift is to create a seamless flow from event to event in this book.  Each of these episodes ties together with a rhythm formed by word choices. We become emotionally attached to the characters through the narrative and dialogue, experiencing their every mood.  Here is a sample passage.

Spring had come and it was vacation.
I was bored.
Barkus was bored.
"Barkus needs something new and exciting," I said.
"I don't think Barkus needs something new and exciting," said father.
But he was wrong. 

One of the first things readers will notice about this title is the trim size.  It fits perfectly in the hands of the intended audience.  The splash of yellow dots spans both sides of the opened dust jacket on white canvas.  The array of colors in the title text introduces readers to the color palette used throughout the book.  The expressions on Barkus's and Nicky's faces, along with their high-five, tell a story too.  I think it's safe to say, they are the best of friends.

The red hue used in the title text becomes the background for the book case.  A close-up of a joyful Barkus is drawn in black on the front and crosses the spine a bit to the left. A blend of multi-colored smaller dots covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the text on the title page Nicky is painting pictures of her two new friends.  The canvas for this image is the same bright yellow as the dots on the jacket.

Illustrator Marc Boutavant alters his picture sizes in keeping with the storyline.  He may give us a single page picture, an image which crosses the gutter or a series of smaller visuals to signify the rambunctious natures of Barkus and Nicky.  When he uses both pages it's to heighten the emotion of total merriment.  Readers will enjoy the wide-eyed looks on the characters.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on Barkus's birthday, the snow day.  Marc Boutavant has placed three images on a single page.  Nicky and Barkus are playing in the snow.  At the top they start to run with Barkus watching Nicky.  Her eyes are closed in complete bliss.  In the next scene they are jumping.  This time Barkus has his eyes closed.  In the final picture the pals are belly down in the snow, eating it.  This is how you enjoy winter.  This is how you enjoy life.

Barkus written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Marc Boutavant is a wonderful beginning to a marvelous early chapter book series.  Readers (this one included) will be more than ready for the next set of adventures shared by these two best buddies.  You will want multiple copies on your professional bookshelves and at least one for your personal bookshelves.  I plan on having a couple of copies to hand out for Halloween.

At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  They have also created a teacher's guide.  Here is a link which speaks about Marc Boutavant when he visited the United States in 2013.  Marc Boutavant is featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and by author and blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations.  As I did in a recent post for another Patricia MacLachlan book, Someone Like Me, here are two of my favorite videos featuring this versatile author.

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