Why would someone famous for his adult cartoons, plays, and movies try his hand at children's stories? The author of this picture book is Jules Feiffer, the same man who wrote Carnal Knowldege and Little Murders and won the Pulitzer Prize for satirical cartoons. I hope he has lots more like this one. Bark, George is about a puppy that first responds Meow when his mother asks him to bark. Again and again she commands the young mutt, his answers varying from quack, quack to oink, oink, and just about any other sound but the one she craves to hear. When George responds Moo, moo, his worried mother decides that drastic measures are in order. Off to the vet they go. The vet fails to elicit any more appropriate response than the mother, so he reaches down George's throat and pulls out a cat, a duck, a pig. The vet, however, must reach deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George to pull out you guessed it the cow. If the book ended here, it would have succeeded as a clever, simple story. Certainly any reader will delight in the two-dimensional drawings in bold black outline against pastel backgrounds, such as the lanky figure of the vet or the terror-stricken puppy pondering the vet's outstretched arm poised above his throat.
But the story doesn't end there, because Feiffer, like James Thurber or Maurice Sendak, has written a complex tale simply. Adult readers will see the layers of stories: the obvious one about a puppy whose mother takes him to the vet for a little behavior modification; a humorous layer, written in pictures, about an anxious mother, a guileless son, a zealous doctor; and a symbolic layer, filled with meaning that the reader supplies. A child reader will no doubt sympathize with this young creature who won't or can't behave. At the colorful finale, both parents and children may wonder, as I did, Who are the voices inside me?Katherine S. Balch writes for national periodicals including Cricket magazine.