Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall


What’s a hound who miss­es his boy to do? Bona­parte is dev­as­tat­ed. His boy, Jean Claude, has been sent away to La School d’Ex­cel­lence. And the first rule is no dogs allowed. But Bona­parte is deter­mined to see his beloved Jean Claude again. Per­haps they’ll believe he’s a stu­dent or a drum­mer in the school band or a lunch lady. With mag­nif­i­cent draw­ings, full of details to dis­cov­er with each new read­ing, Bona­parte is a cold-nosed, warm-heart­ed tale.

Awards and Recognition

Smith­son­ian Notable Book for Chil­dren, 2000
Par­ents’ Choice Sil­ver Hon­or Award, 2000
Min­neso­ta Book Award Final­ist, 2001


  • The sto­ry takes place in Paris. Take a tour of the city via pho­tos at this website.
  • Make a list of oth­er dis­guis­es Bona­parte could use to try and get into the school.
  • Use a stamp to make a pat­terned design around the edge of white paper and draw a pic­ture of Bona­parte. (Look at the cover)
  • Write about the changes we would have to make if we allowed all of the stu­dents to bring their dogs to school.

Thanks to Kathy John­son, media spe­cial­ist in Alexan­dria, Min­neso­ta, for these suggestions.

Marsha writes:

I wrote Bona­parte for at least two rea­sons. First, I was (and still am) an only child. Sec­ond, my ear­li­est peer was a dog. Please fol­low the syl­lo­gism: Broth­ers are boys. Buff, a dog, was my broth­er. There­fore, Buff was a boy. Log­ic aside, dogs and boys do indeed have much in com­mon: they’re messy, drool a lot, and smell bad some­times; they also per­form ter­rif­ic stunts, make fas­ci­nat­ing sound effects, and are great chums all around.

Of course, dogs, like boys, can talk when they must and are prob­a­bly capa­ble of many mys­ter­ies in their secret lives. When my father, my kids, and I picked up my sec­ond broth­er, Hank (who remark­ably resem­bled my old­er broth­er, Buff), my dad already had his eyes on the prize—Best in Show. Hank came with papers and was pedi­greed, sired by a cham­pi­on. But I did­n’t care about his lin­eage. I just want­ed him to stop shiv­er­ing long enough to learn to go on the paper and set­tle in with his new pack.

Too young to com­pete, Hank slept through most of his first dog show—1,900 Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can dogs on parade at the Lake Min­neton­ka Ken­nel Club All-Breed Dog Show. I was deeply sat­is­fied. I did­n’t want Hank to go to the dogs, espe­cial­ly those dogs. He was one of us, not them. Hank was real.

Marsha and HankI wrote Bona­parte first for Hank. In the ear­li­est drafts, Bona­parte, a dog cor­rupt with brag­gado­cio, lured Jean Claude’s com­pan­ion­ship with florid dis­plays of talent—in bal­let, in pale­on­tol­ogy, in cook­ing French delicacies—like the dogs at the show. But Hank did­n’t get it.

I could­n’t either. The sto­ry nev­er worked until I final­ly wrote it for myself. What mat­tered to me was Bona­parte’s sin­cer­i­ty, his dogged deter­mi­na­tion to be with his boy.

Bonaparte disguised as motherAt the end of the book when Bona­parte sheds his last dis­guise, say­ing to the Regents, “Per­haps you need a good dog,” he has final­ly found him­self. He is a dog—no more, no less. At his best as him­self, he nat­u­ral­ly finds his boy.

I write my best when I write to find myself, my true fears and dreams. In this sto­ry, I redis­cov­ered my need for con­nec­tion, to be part of the pack. In Bona­parte, I found a heart famil­iar with my own. C’est bon!


Fresh as a new­ly baked crois­sant, this delight­ful con­fec­tion finds a lone­ly pooch long­ing for his young mas­ter’s warm lap and “deter­mined to find his boy” after Jean Claude is sent off to board­ing school. Sad­ly, “La School d’Ex­cel­lence” has a strict pol­i­cy: “NO DOGS ALLOWED.” This does­n’t deter Bona­parte, how­ev­er, who sniffs out Jean Claude’s trail. Halper­in’s (Sophie and Rose) charm­ing pen­cil and water­col­or pan­el draw­ings chron­i­cle the canine’s route through the breath­tak­ing streets of Paris, with its cafés, foun­tains and fruit stands (one heart­break­ing vignette shows the fur­ry fel­low sleep­ing “on a pil­low of stone” at the foot of a stat­ue), until he storms the school’s gates. He arrives dai­ly in a dif­fer­ent dis­guise as the boy’s moth­er, he’s twigged when he offers the reg­is­trar his dog license as I.D.; as a new drum­mer in the high school band, his tail (which wags “in four-quar­ter time”) gives him away. The day Bona­parte turns up as the new jan­i­tor, his canine tal­ents are final­ly appre­ci­at­ed: Jean Claude is dis­cov­ered miss­ing and it’s up to Bona­parte to track him down. Chal­l’s (Rupa Rais­es the Sun) nar­ra­tive strikes just the right bal­ance between humor and feel­ings of loss in this cap­ti­vat­ing dog-los­es-boy, dog-gets-boy tale. Her words togeth­er with the art­work’s elab­o­rate bor­ders and del­i­cate­ly detailed draw­ings will waltz straight off the pages and into the read­er’s hearts. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

Bona­parte, a shag­gy dog, miss­es his school-bound boy so much that he ven­tures from their vil­lage to Paris for a reunion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, La School d’Ex­cel­lence has a “no dogs allowed” pol­i­cy that hard­ly deters the clever canine from don­ning guis­es to gain entry. Though barred at every turn, he and Jean Claude even­tu­al­ly con­nect and even affect change at the stuffy school. The lan­guage in this well-told sto­ry stretch­es read­ers’ imagination—“Alone that night on a pil­low of stone, Bona­parte longed for the warm lap where he’d sprawled, lumpy and bag­gy with ease.” Every page is bor­dered by a unique and some­times elab­o­rate pat­tern. This frame is then sub­di­vid­ed into sec­tions. With­in each one, a pen­cil-and-water­col­or image embell­ish­es the plot. All text is housed with­in its own dia­logue box on every page. Read­ers will pore over the details in the pic­tures, pan­el by pan­el. Love con­quers all in Bona­parte. (School Library Jour­nal)

The quick-wit­ted Bona­parte will not be denied. Sep­a­rat­ed from his mas­ter, Jean Claude, whose new school does not allow dogs, Bona­parte deter­mines to gain entrance. Each week­day he appears at the school. On Mon­day, he comes as him­self, a loy­al dog, “to fetch my boy.” His rus­es become more des­per­ate as the week pro­gress­es: Tues­day, Bona­parte dis­sem­bles as Jean Claude’s moth­er; Wednes­day, as anoth­er can­di­date for entrance to the school; Thurs­day, as a drum­mer for the school band; Fri­day, as the new lunch lady. On Sat­ur­day, dis­guised as the new jan­i­tor, Bona­parte dis­cov­ers Jean Claude miss­ing from school. Wily read­ers will know instant­ly what’s up and where it will all end, but that only adds to the plea­sure of this light-heart­ed sto­ry. Halper­in’s detailed pen­cil-and-water­col­or illus­tra­tions, dom­i­nat­ed with pas­tel tones of pinks, lilacs, and blues, re-cre­ate the France of cafés and chateaux, of art gal­leries and carousels. Each page is bor­dered with motifs in a French spir­it: repeat­ed cathe­dral doors, stained-glass goth­ic win­dows, church spires, bridges, and walled cities; the cov­er’s bor­der of dawn-lit Eif­fel Tow­ers ini­ti­ates the win­ning pat­tern. But the real win­ner is Bona­parte him­self; how­ev­er garbed, what­ev­er cha­peau, Bona­parte est char­mant. s.p.b. (The Horn Book)

The Bona­parte of the title is a whiskery lop-eared canine, bereft when his own­er, young Jean Claude, goes off to La School d’Ex­cel­lence for his edu­ca­tion. The faith­ful pup fol­lows his mas­ter’s trail, but when he address­es him­self to the school, he’s informed that they have a strict anti-dog pol­i­cy. Refus­ing to take this pro­scrip­tion lying down, Bona­parte dis­guis­es him­self var­i­ous­ly as Jean Claude’s moth­er, an enter­ing stu­dent, a play­er in the band, a lunch lady, and a jan­i­tor, each time get­ting found out as a dog; on his last unmask­ing, he dis­cov­ers that Jean Claude is miss­ing, and the school shifts to sup­port of loy­al Bona­parte as he finds their errant pupil. The high-spir­it­ed com­e­dy (kids will par­tic­u­lar­ly appre­ci­ate Bona­parte’s rea­soned con­ver­sa­tions with the school author­i­ties) off­sets the slight pre­cious­ness of the faux-French fil­lips; the dog-boy friend­ship and the even­tu­al­ly hap­py dog­gy school (the “No Dogs Allowed” sign changes to “Now Dogs Allowed”) are warm and delight­ful com­po­nents. Halper­in’s art employs its cus­tom­ary bor­ders con­tain­ing pre­cise and petite motifs accent­ing the larg­er images, which often sep­a­rate into sequen­tial pan­els that sup­port or add action to the cen­tral scenes; text is tight­ly con­trolled in box­es that float through the illus­tra­tions. Jean Claude and Bona­parte, both—especially the latter—personable fig­ures, keep the pale intri­ca­cy of the visu­als from becom­ing chilly and dis­tant, so the result is an invit­ing and Anno-like com­plex­i­ty of land­scape. Use this to add a lit­tle oh-la-la to a dog­gy readaloud. (The Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books)

Incroy­able! What’s a dog to do when his young mas­ter is sent to board­ing school? Track that child down, of course, which is why Bona­parte, one tire­less canine, hap­pens to be prowl­ing the streets of Paris. Utter­ly, well, fetch­ing. (Smith­son­ian Notable Books for Children)

illus­tra­tion © Wendy Halperin Ander­son, from Bona­parte, writ­ten by Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, DK Books, 2000

illus­tra­tor, Wendy Ander­son Halperin
DK, 2000
ISBN 978–0‑78942–6178
ages 4 and up
32 pages

Look for this book at your favorite library or used bookseller.