Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, 56 pp. RL

I am always on the lookout for chapter books that bring something new to the shelf, and Barkus, by Patricia MacLachlan, Newbery winning author of many chapter and picture books and published by Chronicle Books, is a fantastic new addition! By nature, chapter books for emerging readers have to be simple in story - both words and complexity of plot. But, they also have be engaging, and that is where a brilliant illustrator like Marc Boutavant makes all the difference. 
Barkus is a big, brown, very smart dog belonging to Uncle Everton. Uncle Everton is about to embark on a trip around the world and Barkus does not like to travel, so he gives his dog to his niece, Nicky. Barkus is clearly an exemplary dog, and Boutavant's characterization of him make you want to reach out and scratch Barkus between the ears. Barkus is boisterous, (mostly) well behaved and 100% irresistible. He follows Nicky to school, but when her teacher Mrs. Gregolian (great name - I love it when books for beginning readers toss in a complicated, but decodable name here and there) learns that Barkus doesn't bite and is also ready to learn, she allows him to stay, even making him the class dog!
In the chapter titled, "A Bark in the Dark," Nicky and Barkus plan to celebrate his birthday at school, but snow keeps them home. Nicky does her best to make the day fun, but Barkus seems to be a bit sad. When three of his canine friends show up, the party takes off. 
As a huge fan of the Merrie Melodies cartoon, "Feed the Kitty," featuring the massive bulldog Marc Antony and the kitten, Pussyfoot, chapter three of Barkus, in which finds and bonds with a kitten, happens to be my favorite. However, the fourth and final chapter, "The Story," is a close second. Camping and telling stories, Nicky can't seem to find a story Barkus wants to hear. Finally, she ends up telling him the story of everything that has just happened over the course of the book, a truly lovely touch and a marvelous way to end the first of what I hope is a long series of books! And don't miss the MacLachlan's dedication to the real Barkus...
Happily, there is already a second book on the shelves - Barkus: Dog Dreams!

Also published by the marvelous Chronicle Books, an equally superb - and Geisel Award winning - series for emerging readers: Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by the spectacular Emily Hughes.


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