Posts tagged Norton Juster

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer: A perfect picture book.

Bark, GeorgeDSC01778

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Jules Feiffer

32 pages





Bark, George is one of my favorite picture books ever. It’s funny, clever, simple and satisfying. In short, it’s perfect.

Jules Feiffer is an author (he’s written several books for children and adults), an artist (in addition to illustrating Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, he also illustrates all of his own writing), a screenwriter (most notably, Robert Altman’s Popeye) and a cartoonist (he had his own strip in The Village Voice for forty-two years).

Feiffer’s simple line drawings are tight but also fluid.  There’s a perceived action in his precise style. Unwavering black lines contain lavish hues; the comically endearing characters are set against solid, pastel backgrounds. The no-frills text says only exactly what is necessary and moves quickly. It all comes together to produce a flawless and hilarious story.


George, a puppy, is instructed by his mother to bark but her commands are met with unexpected results.

‘“Bark, George.” George went: “Meow.”’


George’s mother calmly explains that cats meow and dogs bark. Once again, she directs George to bark. George quacks.


Following her various pleas for George to bark, he emits a new and different animal sound, but never a bark.

Clearly frustrated, George’s mother brings him to the vet. The vet’s appeals for George to bark are met with the same results.

“Please bark, George.” George went: “Meow.”’


So the vet dons a glove, reaches deep inside of George, and pulls out a cat.


Each request is met with a misplaced animal sound and each time the doctor reaches inside George and retrieves the relevant animal. There’s a cat, a duck, a pig, and a cow. Then finally, after George has been unburdened of all these creatures, he barks!

Both the vet and George’s mother are ecstatic.


George’s mother is so pleased that she decides to show off his newly learned skill on the way home.

“So she said, “Bark, George.” And George went:


Children find great humor in attributing incorrect characteristics to, well, most anything. For children who have mastered proper animal sounds there’s a seemingly endless amount of laughter to be achieved by mixing and matching their noises. Bark, George is the reverse of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and a guaranteed “read it again.”


Buy the book!

IndieBound / Powell’s / Amazon

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John Coltrane’s Giant Steps: A musical awakening.


John Coltrane’s Giant Steps


Picture Book

Ages 4 and up

By Chris Raschka

36 pages

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Published in 2002


Chris Raschka has tackled jazz before in two previous picture books, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (1992) and Mysterious Thelonius (1997). His book Yo! Yes? (2007) was awarded a Caldecott Honor. In 2006 he won the Caldecott Medal for The Hello, Goodbye Window, by Norton Juster (author of The Phantom Tollbooth). He won the Caldecott Medal again in 2012 for A Ball for Daisy. I feel quite comfortable saying that Chris Raschka is a genius. (This article, written by his wife, titled “The Habits of an Artist” is a fascinating read.) His art is rich and loose and full and free; his text is concise and lyrical.

If you had to describe Jazz to someone who’d never heard music, this would be the perfect book to help you do it. Raschka flawlessly combines simple shapes, thick, dark lines, a pastel palette and instructive text to create music on the page.


In the opening spread our narrator introduces us to the band. They will be performing “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.


Each member has a job— the box lays the foundation, the raindrops set the tempo, and the snowflake is charge of the harmony.


Once that’s all laid out, the cat enters, dancing over it all and adding the melody. All the while the narrator is directing the action.

(Readers familiar with Coltrane’s work may already have made the connection—raindrops, kittens, snowflakes, and boxes “these are a few of my favorite things.”)

When things get a bit messy, our narrator takes a break, describes Coltrane’s music, slows the whole thing down and helps the band get back on track.


The narrator’s instructions are simple and rich and so exquisitely descriptive of Coltrane’s music. But don’t see it as only Coltrane’s music. Think of it as an introduction to jazz, to music, and the way in which words and pictures can convey something seemingly indescribable.


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