By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Oliver for Young Readers” by Steven J. Carino and Alex Tresniowski, foreword by Laura Schroff c.2021, Thomas Nelson, $16.99, 214 pages
Or, maybe on the other hand, don’t. That’s not yours to take, so taking it would be stealing and you’ve been taught since you were in diapers that stealing is wrong. You know how much it hurts to lose something through theft; in “Oliver for Young Readers” by Steven J. Carino and Alex Tresniowski, it’s even worse when it’s your best friend.
Ever since he was 10, Steven Carino has loved dogs – but Oliver was special. Oliver was a brown-and-black Yorkie-Shih Tzu, a cute little guy with a swishy tail and a bark that was bigger than he was. Oliver was a bit shy, he loved to play, loved to go for car rides and he loved Carino very much. The feeling was mutual, so you can imagine how Carino felt when, after stopping for a quick pick-up meal after work, he returned to his vehicle to find that Oliver had vanished. Stolen!
Carino called his sister and she rushed over. They looked everywhere for Oliver, they called the police, and they asked around until it was dark, knowing that Oliver could’ve been miles away by then. They stopped searching and then started again the next day.
Was this just a case of “one step forward, two steps back” Carino luck? That’s what Carino’s dad might’ve said, because he was mean sometimes; Carino knew his dad loved him, but he could make Carino feel awful. Was this loss “the Carino way” or was the disappearance of his best friend a sign that God was ignoring him?
Another sister posted Oliver’s theft on Facebook and it was widely shared. Posters were made and hung many times and total strangers began helping with the search. Some called Carino with support, many of his childhood friends came from all over to look for the little dog and Carino began to see that he wasn’t being ignored after all. He was loved!
And so was Oliver, wherever he was....
At the risk of being a spoiler, you can give “Oliver for Young Readers” to your child without worrying about the death of a dog. Even so, have a box of tissues handy because, yep, it’s that kind of book.
Based on “Oliver” for adults, this weep-if-you-may story is a little like the old classic Lassie movie, in that Oliver is assisted by many kind strangers in his efforts to return home to Carino, and that’s the kind of heart warmer we all need right now. Your child might also like a hint of intimacy, and that’s here, too: Carino tells young readers about himself, his doubts in faith and his personal conclusions; there’s humor here, grace, and there’s also the constantly stable sense that the story may be edgy sometimes but it won’t end badly.
This isn’t necessarily the book you want to offer a kid who’s just lost a dog – but for all other 9-to-13-year-olds, it’s a great read. Give them “Oliver for Young Readers” and loving it won’t take much time.