Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Age Range: 6-8
Barkus is the first book in a new early chapter book series by Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant. Red-headed Nicky, apparently a first grader, is thrilled when her favorite uncle unexpectedly gives her a large, grown dog named Barkus. Nicky's parents are a bit more apprehensive, but they all come around, and Barkus becomes part of the family. In subsequent brief chapters, young readers follow Barkus as he sneaks in to Nicky's school, has a noisy birthday party, adopts a kitten, and participates in a backyard campout.
Barkus is not especially realistic (e.g. a scene in which a couple of unknown dogs are let into the house to celebrate Barkus' birthday with a crazy dance party, and the fact that Nicky's teacher just accepts Barkus and makes him the class dog), but it is a lot of fun. It's perfect first-grade wish fulfillment (including a snow day).
Each page has a moderate amount of text, but also a large font, short paragraphs, and color illustrations, making Barkus suitable for relatively new readers. There's enough complexity to the story to keep slightly more experienced readers entertained, too. Here's a sample page, the beginning of Chapter 2, Barkus Sneaks, to give you a feel for the reading level:
"It was Monday morning.
I put on my sweater and coat and boots.
Barkus watched me.
I put on my gloves
Barkus watched me.
"Goodbye, Barkus. I'll see you after school."
I patted him on the head.
I went out the door.
When I looked back Barkus was watching through the window."
See? Not overly challenging, but the astute reader will know that Barkus has something up his sleeve (or would, if had sleeves).
[As a tiny side note, I appreciated the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Gregolian, has an Armenian last name, as do my husband and daughter.]
Boutavant's illustrations give Nicky and Barkus both bright-eyed, mildly cartoonish looks. While the illustrations are relatively spare, with plenty of white space (or simple, primary-colored backgrounds), there are occasional details to reward closer inspection. For instance, in the Barkus Sneaks chapter, careful observers will notice a brown tail sticking out from behind a tree, as Nicky hears a suspicious noise on her way to school. The noisy birthday party scene will make any reader smile.
Barkus is a lively addition to the ranks of early chapter book series, with a pair of easy-going protagonists (well, a trio, once the kitten comes along). As a well-made, nearly square hardcover, it stands out relative to the swarms of slim early chapter book paperbacks. While my first grader, near the end of the school year, is already a bit further along than this in reading level, I still she'll still enjoy meeting Barkus. Libraries will want to give this one a look, especially once there are a couple of other books in the series (as is planned). Recommended for readers who are just ready for the satisfaction of a book with chapters, and who still seek dynamic and colorful illustrations.
Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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