McTavish smiled, in the way that dogs smile, with a soft little woof and a squirmy sort of wriggle.
I really, really, really enjoyed this little book Good Dog McTavish but I am having a struggle deciding about the audience. The publisher says 8+ but I think older children might appreciate this book even more. Many years ago I read a similar little book called Spunky tells all and enthusiastically gave it to a Grade 3 teacher to share with her class but she returned it quite quickly because her class found it too confusing. I think they had difficulty with the concept of point of view - that Spunky as the family dog was telling his version of domestic life. McTavish also has opinions and ideas about making this family better but here it is not told as a first 'person' narrative.
The Peachey family are imploding. Mum decides she has had enough of the cleaning, organising and cooking so she steps aside to enjoy her yoga leaving the family to fend for themselves. Not surprisingly, quite quickly, everything falls apart. Take away and frozen meals (even horrid tasting ones) become the norm, dishes linger unwashed, clothes pile up all over the house - clean and dirty and everyone is late for work and school. Think of Anthony Browne and his classic Piggybook. The youngest child, Betty, - old head on young shoulders - knows something must be done and done now so she suggests the family find a dog. They set off to the Cuddles Home for Unclaimed Mutts (C.H.U.M.).
"Betty screwed her eyes shut with longing and terror. She did not want to browse dogs. All she wanted was to choose the smartest, waggiest, most shiny-eyed of all the poor doggies in captivity, take him home and love him to bits. Maybe then her family could return to a time when Ma Peachey wasn't doing yoga ... "
Betty finds McTavish - quite a lot of Scottish terrier, a bit of Jack Russell, a touch of poodle, a trace of Bichon Frise and a dash of Chinese Spaniel. Yes this is quite a mix but the main thing you need to know is McTavish is wise. Betty loves him. She makes him a wonderful comfortable bed using an old blanket and a sleeping bag which she washes and sews up carefully. McTavish settles in but he can see this family need urgent help.
"He observed the Peacheys in silence, needing to know what sort of family he had chosen and what his role in that family would be. ... McTavish was more a psychological mastermind. He liked to organise people, to fix situations that were not to his liking. And to arrange the world in way that made it most comfortable for himself."
Betty confides in McTavish sharing her worries about the family and in turn McTavish comes up with three plans - A, B and C. As each plan is implemented the family move one step closer to normality and perhaps gain some of the wisdom Ma Peachley herself has been seeking through her yoga. McTavish, however, remains a true dog throughout the story - he cannot talk, his special bond with Betty is just one of love between a child and her dog - but he can do doggy things such as chew shoes, hide clothes, bark and in plan C even stop eating.
One tiny warning - if you are planning to read this book aloud to a class there is one use of the word 'goddam' which may offend. On a happier note Meg Rosoff also includes delicious words such as clinched, matriarchal oppression, melancholy, foray, existential, rampage, hooligan and invigorating.
Meg Rosoff is the winner of one of the most prestigious Children's Literature awards - The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Here is an interview with Meg.
Read some reviews of Good Dog McTavish:
At the back of Good Dog McTavish you will find a page of dog care instructions because "A dog is for life, not just for Easter." There is also some information about Blue Cross which is a UK dog rescue organisation. Another book in our school library with a dog narrator is Dog by Daniel Pennac - translated from French. Whenever I find a senior primary student who loves dogs I place this book into their hands and nearly every reader comes back with a smile. Another book that follows this theme is A dog's life by Ann Martin. I would also pair this book with Let's get a pup by Bob Graham.
Good news, we will be able to meet McTavish again in his second book due mid 2018.