Top 100 Picture Books #9: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
#9 Bark, George by Jules Feiffer (1999)
This is the very first book I ever read at story time, and it has since become my secret weapon. It never fails to get a laugh, and I love the anticipation I feel as the surprise ending approaches especially when I know there are kids in the audience who’ve never heard it before. – Katie Ahearn
This book has a special place in my heart, since it is the first book that my son Timothy was willing to proudly read aloud to anyone who would listen. I’ve used it in many library storytimes, and it always goes over well. Always. It’s got predictability, repetition, animal sounds, expressive drawings, and lovely surprising humor. – Sondra Eklund
One of my all time favorite read alouds. I love the expressions of George’s mother, and the kids eat this book up. So to speak. – DeAnn Okamura
Because it works every time. – Laura Reed
My favorite readaloud book of all time. I mean it. It’s true. To my mind, it’s a perfect book. The plot, the characters, the simplicity, and the sheer amount of use you can get out of it. I have read this book to five-year-olds. I have read this book to teenagers. I have read this book to adults. I have even read this book to tweens (who, in a way, are even harder to please than teens) and everyone agrees, George is great. George is tops. George is here to stay.
Horn Book describes the plot as, “When George, a lanky puppy, is told by his mother to bark, he answers with a ‘meow’ and then a series of other animal noises. When she takes him to a human vet, the man pulls animal after animal out of George’s throat. The problem seems to be solved, until the last page when George opens his mouth and ‘Hello’ comes out.”
Strange to think that my favorite readaloud would come from such a hip satirist. Though he began as a playwright, screenwriter, and cartoonist (he was the first cartoonist commissioned by The New York Times to create comic strips for their Op-Ed page!) lately Mr. Feiffer has been turning his attention to the child side of things. His most recent picture book collaborations have been with his daughter Kate and have included the really quite fantastic My Side of the Car as well as others.
The book’s origin story was told to me when I hosted Mr. Feiffer alongside Nick Bruel, Laurie Keller, and David Roman in a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL on humor in children’s books. In that Salon Mr. Feiffer told us that when his daughter was young she would lie on the top of her bunk bed and he would lie on the bottom bunk and tell her a story out of his head. Sometimes they were very good but often Mr. Feiffer would fall asleep on that bunk and totally forget whatever it was he told her. In the case of Bark, George, however, he had an inkling that this time he should probably write the story down before he forgot it. He did, went to sleep, and when he woke up he had no memory of writing it. He just saw it there on the paper and realized what had happened.
I think Publishers Weekly put its finger squarely on why this book is so amazingly popular. “Feiffer reverses the old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly plot and boosts the giddiness with every barnyard animal removed from tiny George.” I never really thought of it that way. Better yet, he did it will animal sounds to boot. Better BETTER than that, the book’s gags are perfectly aligned. I mean, when the vet puts on his longest latex glove and reaches [enter here an innumerable series of “deep”s] into George’s mouth, I always like to pause for just half a second before I turn the page to reveal the cow that has somehow emerged from the canine’s miniscule gullet.
Best of all the book gets the maximum amount of use out of the page turns. You can ratchet up the tension depending on how slowly or quickly you turn them while reading the book.
Publishers Weekly said of it, “This pairing of an ageless joke with a crisp contemporary look will initiate many an animated game of animal sounds.”
And Horn Book called it, “A clever, catchy story from a master cartoonist.”
Library Journal said, “A pack of fun, with droll illustrations and deadpan text.”
You can read the full story here if you so choose.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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