Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Governor's Dog is Missing (Slate Stephens Mysteries #1) by Sneed B. Collard III

Sneed Collard III is coming to our school in the fall so I am starting to read his fiction books. A prolific writer, he started his career in 1994 and now has published 40 nonfiction and 7 fiction books. This mystery involves the governor losing his famous dog while on his normal daily walk. Sixth grader Slate, along with his best friend, Daphne, decide to find the dog. Slate has known Daphne since first grade and what was once a platonic relationship has resulted in him having feelings for her. It is driving him crazy and makes for some funny and awkward situations. The two sleuths go to the Capitol to follow their suspicions of an opposing politician they feel might have kidnapped the dog to manipulate the media and influence the upcoming election. The results are unexpected and humorous. Interesting facts are interspersed regarding the government and its infrequent sessions explaining why the two detectives had free reign at the Capitol and why security was loosey-goosey. The descriptions of Montana and Glacier National Park brought back fond memories for me. As the two kids follow the clues, they adjust to their changing relationship and learn a bit about dogs used against aggressive wildlife.

Collard reminds me a bit of Deborah Hopkinson where they are short on character development but shine with interesting facts. It reads a bit like a nonfiction book and I wasn't vested in the character as much as expected. I enjoyed the book, but the protagonist has basically one emotional or internal struggle which simplifies the story. Slate is entertaining but his character arc is basically his crush on Daphne.The subplots could have been fleshed out a bit more. The two take initiative by seeking out state politicians and providing a civic duty, but I wasn't sure of their motivations to find the dog except he was famous and a dog. If Slate was portrayed as a dog crazy kid or if the author had played up the angle of Slate losing his dog and not wanting the governor to feel the same, then maybe I'd go for it. Slate does some funny and klutzy things that make him endearing. This is a good book for readers in middle school and grade five that are still reading for fluency. Literary strategies such as defining high vocabulary words as a tool to help with reading are used in this book, but the boy-girl interest makes it for older students. This is a good book for struggling readers in older grades.

The setting is well-defined and I had a clear sense of Montana. The mystery was too hard for me to figure out, but that made me vested in it. The clues are spaced well and kept the pace moving along. I wanted more description of Glacier National Park and loved the information on the dogs. I worked in Yellowstone National Park and came across wild elk, buffalo, and bears. Even after 22 years the terror of coming across a wild animal unsuspectingly came back to me after reading about Slate and Daphne's bear encounter. When I worked at Yellowstone there was some hysteria because 5 bear attacks occurred in the park. Glacier was having similar problems and park biologists had a theory that it was because of the previous harsh winter and the not enough food in the back country causing them to come to lower altitudes than normal. As we know, many animal conflicts are a result of human encroachment on habitat. Collard's subplot of Glacier Park touches a bit on bear management that adds an interesting twist to the main mystery. If you like nonfiction and mysteries then give this a go.

3 Smileys

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