September 19, 2013

The Spotted Dog Last Seen

by Jessica Scott Kerrin
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
978-1-55498-387-2
196 pp.
Ages 8-11
August 2013

The Spotted Dog Last Seen may focus on a cemetery and headstones and the dead, but it's really a story about buried secrets and making things right. And with a motley crew of characters led by our narrator Derek (whose passion is collecting sayings to put on t-shirts e.g., Change is good.  You go first.) and the cotton-ball eye-browed Mr. Creelman, The Spotted Dog Last Seen takes the story from grave (pun intended) to middle-grade perfection.

Imagine having Grade 6 students volunteer once a week for the last three months of the school year and getting the assignment of helping the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade tend to the grave markers.  Along with Pascal Bender and Merrilee Takahashi, Derek gets lessons from the trio of elderly men, led by the emphatic Mr. Creelman, about reading numbers, symbols, epitaphs, shapes, and composites of stone, all with the aim of helping them clean the markers. While Derek reacts strongly to stone-carved hands and his recurring nightmare about an orange rubber ball, he starts to enjoy their Wednesday afternoons together.  Pascal is entertaining and asks quirky questions, Merrilee engrosses them in a mystery involving codes linked to some library books, and Derek finds himself learning so much that his fear of cemeteries is diminishing.
"Creelman had been showing us all along that cemeteries were much more about the living than they were about the dead." (pg. 118)
The Spotted Dog Last Seen is a mystery at its heart so I can't give much more away except to say that it involves a school's time capsule, a Mystery Book Club, hidden memories, guilt and much more work in the Twillingate Cemetery. 

Knowing author Jessica Scott Kerrin from her Martin Bridge early-reader series from Kids Can Press, I am familiar with her capable writing with boys as protagonists.  With The Spotted Dog Last Seen, Jessica Scott Kerrin can now add middle-grade writing to her skills.  Boys will enjoy the irreverence of Derek's t-shirts, Pascal's lack of self-control and the grim aura of the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade of Mr. Creelman, Mr. Peeble and Mr. Wooster.  While I felt that there were too many dangling subplots at one point, and I could not keep track of how they were related, I just needed to be patient.  Jessica Scott Kerrin entwines the subplots almost effortlessly.  For me, it's the crisp dialogue, usually between characters but just as effectively in Derek's head, that says much more than a few words normally can that enriches the story beyond a mystery to a personal journey of understanding and growth.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

Looks like agreat book. Will put it on my TBR list. Thanks!