I first became a fan of Jane Elson when I had the opportunity to see her in person at a local event, at which she talked about her publications to date. Since then Jane has published a book that I only wish had existed when I was of the intended reader age, that of an 8-12 year old.
The book introduces readers to Marcus, a young lad that lives with his Nan and his Dad, and above anything else longs to have a dog he can call his own. Marcus has been through a lot, having lost his mum, and facing the reality that consequently his dad is rarely awake and present, seemingly struggling with mental health issues. Marcus is fortunate enough to have a Nan that loves and adores him, trying her best to support him, but that doesn’t stop him feeling so alone, and he feels as though the void in his life would be filled if he could only get a pet dog.
Parallel to Marcus’ story is that of Delilah, a young girl that has lost her dad in an accident, and consequently feels smothered by her mum, who goes above and beyond in trying to keep Delilah safe. When Delilah does make it to school she is ridiculed and bullied for her size, and consequently feels as though no one sees her for who she truly is, until she happens to become acquainted with Marcus, and their stories intertwine through their love of dogs and the need to have one of their own.
Enter a mystery dog in the garden next door to Marcus, making his presence known by putting his warm wet nose through the fence one evening. Big in character as well as in size this lovely dog becomes a secret companion of an evening for Marcus, who sneaks over the fence to visit, and names the dog Moon Dog as he only seems to only come out at night. It isn’t long before Marcus becomes concerned about the welfare of the mystery dog, and he confides in Delilah, which leads to the two making connections between strangers in the local area, and dogs that aren’t being looked after properly.
The latter half of this story makes for an emotional read as it educates readers on puppy farming, and the awfulness of this all too relevant form of dog neglect. The book does conclude with the ‘happy ending’ that we expect children’s books to end with, but in this case it is a rescue context, and does not take away from the sadness that readers explore as they read of the next part of Delilah’s story. After getting to meet Moon Dog she is determined more then ever to get a dog of her own, and continues to ask, pester, and suggest to her mum in the hope that she will get a puppy of her own.
Delilah’s mum does everything that you are advised to do when looking to purchase a puppy, but readers will find out why what we take at face value – such as a photograph in front of an amazing background – can be as fake as a forged note. Marcus sees what the puppy farmers are up to, having snuck around to find out more, and decides to tell Delilah everything, only for the pair to fall out when she believes Marcus to be jealous of her new companion, her puppy.
Another important thread to this story is Marcus becoming acquainted with a Vet who helps Marcus to understand what he is seeing around him, and helping him find an outlet when he becomes so overwhelmed by emotions – something that he struggles with, and the reason he was sitting in his garden the first evening he became aware of Moon Dog, and why he often goes for walks too. On one of these walks Marcus becomes convinced he can hear a dog whining like it is trapped and frightened, and he breaks into an abandoned building looking to help, only to find himself trapped when he is caught and locked in by the people using the building.
Tension really builds in this incredible story, as it covers such a powerful, relevant, and difficult topic, and all whilst intertwining other significant and serious topics including Mental Health, Anxiety, Loss, Friendship and Bullying. Jane Elson has always written books with powerful content, and that is certainly the case with Moon Dog, which is an absolute masterpiece in the world of literature, particularly as the book is written with the perfect balance between serious content, emotional aspects, and keeping in mind the age of the intended readers, and so consequently the book does not overwhelm those reading it, instead educating the next generation on these important aspects of society as a whole today with just enough detail to ensure they understand what they are reading, and leaving the reader with the choice to explore the relevant topic further themselves.
There are many comparisons that readers can make about how the way the canine characters feel mirrors that of the children, yet for me the most relevant part to this story was that of Moon Dog himself – the dog that melts your heart the moment he is described – and who remains with you long after you have finished the book. Moon Dog is the reason Marcus and Delilah begin investigating and exploring details in their local community that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, and is a pivotal role in this story that features parallel characters and storylines. Moon Dog is as big in character and he is size, and without that aspect to this dog it would be easy to overlook the mysterious appearance of a dog next door, but being larger then life means that Moon Dog grabs not only Marcus’ heart, but that of Delilah, and readers that accompany the pair on this journey of discovery.
As we approach Christmas this year I found myself thinking of Moon Dog and the festive message from Dog’s Trust of how ‘A Dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, which you can find out more about here. As more and more people purchase a canine companion to help them get through lockdown this book and the morale to it’s story has even more significance than ever in a society where people see their pets as disposable possessions rather then members of their family. Granted adding a dog to your household is a lot of work, and often proves expensive when they have accidents/illnesses, but giving a dog (or any other animal) a loving home in which they feel safe, loved, happy and healthy is invaluable, and offers its own rewards including benefiting your mental health when you head out for a walk together – throwing/chasing sticks, and enjoying the fresh air.
After attending Jane’s digital book launch for Moon Dog I knew the book was perfect content for the FCBG, who I coordinate content for. Jane’s feature can be found here.
Moon Dog is published by Hachette, and available to purchase from all good booksellers.