“The pup with the pencil, the mutt with the marker, the dog with the drawing pad, the chap with the chalk.” Charlie Muttnik is a persistent pooch who has gotta draw. Just like his real-life counterpart, author-illustrator Bruce Degen, Charlie constantly searches for a place to draw in his family’s cramped Brooklyn apartment. He manages to find ways to draw in his neighborhood until summer ends and school begins with a strict new teacher, Miss Rich.

Now that his days are spent sitting in class with hands folded, Charlie has little time left for drawing, so he scribbles where he can, on spelling tests and fractions, until Miss Rich can’t tell his numerators from denominators. With exasperated parents and suffering grades, the young dog turns in a visually detailed report that gives his teacher a change of heart. Soon Charlie is allowed to draw during the school day while calling out his spelling words. The effect spreads until all the children become artists and participate in an art show. And Charlie’s grades not only improve, he finally earns respect for his drawing passion.

Adorable as ever, Degen’s mixed-media illustrations intensify with color as art is welcomed into his classroom. The beloved illustrator of Jamberry and the Magic School Bus series incorporates plenty of humor and expression to highlight both Charlie’s enthusiasm and dilemmas. As a reminder that abilities come in all forms, parents, teachers and librarians alike should keep the delightful I Gotta Draw on hand to encourage creativity and simple fun in our increasingly structured world.

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