by Jessica Scott Kerrin
Two years ago, Jessica Scott Kerrin brought us The Spotted Dog Last Seen (Groundwood, 2013) about Grade 6 student volunteers who help the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade and learn from the elderly Mr. Creelman and his cronies about reading epitaphs and cleaning grave markers. But there was much more to that story, including a school’s time capsule, a spotted dog and a Mystery Book Club, and The Missing Dog is Spotted takes us to an earlier time to introduce those critical elements, while providing a great story in itself.
Sixth graders Trevor and Loyola may have a secret and unspoken pact that “under absolutely no circumstances were they to appear together side by side” (pg. 12) because of the humongous disparity in their heights, but it seems the universe doesn’t know about that agreement, because, when they get out of volunteering together on the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade, they are then thrust together at the animal shelter to walk dogs for the elderly. While the two kids walk their six dogs, they soon realize that everyone is more focused on the dogs, not them. That’s okay since they will need to work together to help solve the mystery of Mr. Fester’s missing dog, Buster. And that mystery is complicated.
The Missing Dog is Spotted may be based on Trevor and Loyola’s volunteering with dogs but it’s a far greater story about trying to do the right thing, accepting that sometimes things go wrong and can never be fixed, and guilt can be brutal. Of course, I’m not giving away much about who feels such guilt or about what because it’s irrelevant–though you'll learn it soon enough when you read the book– since guilt is universal, even for those who could take a lesson in accepting responsibility for making the lives of others more difficult than necessary. But Jessica Scott Kerrin doesn’t saturate The Missing Dog is Spotted with that guilt, though there is that anguish that is always involved when an animal goes missing and even more so when that animal belongs to an elderly person who adores that pet. Instead, Jessica Scott Kerrin holds the angst back and ensures that The Missing Dog is Spotted remains a strong middle grade book that focuses on the concerns and misunderstandings that children and pre-teens might recognize, and still provides a happy ending, for a dog at least.