Don’t Even Try to Tell Me This Isn’t a Perfect Book (#1): Bark, George
Some say there’s no such thing as a perfect book. Bah! Some books are perfect. In this series, we’ll name them.
Don’t even try to tell me Bark, George isn’t a perfect book.
Were you about to start? Stop.
Bark, George is perfect. It’s . . .
. . . efficient. Bark, George has a simple structure where everything set up in the beginning plays out in the end. The text is devoid of any words that don’t absolutely have to be there. George tries to bark, but different animal sounds come out. George’s mother takes him to the vet, and we learn that George has swallowed a cast of ever-larger animals. The vet pulls them out, and George can bark again – pretty clear-cut.
. . . repetitive but not boring. The book begins with George’s mother asking him to bark. But every time George tries, he makes a different animal sound. This happens four times in a row. The bark scene is mirrored in the vet scene later in the book, when we learn that George has swallowed the other animals (which the vet pulls out one by one). It’s repetition, but with a twist.
. . . full of building exasperation. There is a simple yet true picture book equation. It goes like this: Exasperation = Humor. Ever heard of the Pigeon? Exasperation is the Pigeon’s life force. And the Pigeon is funny. You see George’s mother slowly descending into madness as she asks George to bark over and over again and he can’t? That’s funny.
. . . full of building absurdity. Similar to the last point, building absurdity leads to humor as well, but also reader engagement. Kids are on the edge of their seats when George says “moo” at the vet’s office and he pulls out the extra long latex glove to get that cow out.
. . . a satisfying conclusion. I’m not saying every book must have a satisfying conclusion – some of my favorite picture books don’t (Sam & Dave Dig a Hole jumps to mind) – but Bark, George does, and it adds to its perfection. Once the vet pulls all the animals out, George is able to bark again. George’s mother is so happy that her son is cured she goes on a frantic kissing spree (frantic kissing sprees – also funny). And we’re elated with her, because in the story George has been asked to do something he couldn’t do eight times in a row. The reader feels the frustration before George is cured and the happiness after.
. . . a final surprise that allows readers to complete the story. Just when you think everything is back to normal, the last page drops one final surprise. You’ve read this book, so I’m not spoiling anything by saying the book ends with George saying “hello” – implying that George has swallowed a person. It is important to note that the text doesn’t tell the reader “George swallowed a person, kids” – George just says “hello” and the book ends. This allows readers to put two and two together, completing the story themselves (this is always a good thing). The Weston Woods animated production of Bark, George heightens this moment even more, as “hello” is followed immediately by a cut to a black. It’s similar to a “blackout” in theater productions, when they cut the lights immediately after a key moment in the play.
I feel like the surprise-to-blackout moment appeals to us in the same way “mic drops” appeal to us.
Or the same way Prince throwing his guitar and immediately walking off stage after a face-melting solo appeals to us.
It’s going out on a high note. It’s cool to have something awesome happen right at the end.
But enough from me – why do you think this book is perfect? Because it is. We already established that.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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