A Finder's Magic, by Philippa Pearce, illustrated by Helen Craig (Candlewick, 2009, originallypublished in 2006 in the UK, 121 pages with lots of black and white pictures).
A small boy named Till has gone to bed distraught--his beloved dog Bess slipped her leash, and now she is gone. The next day he wakes up early, and drawn by a strong compulsion, heads out to the garden gate. There he finds "an odd-looking little old man, hardly bigger than himself, and dressed all anyhow."
The strange little man is a Finder, with all a Finder's magic, and he is determined to help Till find Bess. So Till sets of through the garden gate, magicked by the Finder into a day that isn't quite real, and heads back to the meadow where he last saw his dog.
There the Finder uses his arcane skills to question all the possible witnesses--duck and heron, mole and cat, and the two little old ladies who live at the meadow's edge. By slow steps and riddles a picture of Bess's last few minutes before she was lost emerge. But the clues seem point to the strange Finder himself, and Till worries that he will never see his dog again.
Part mystery, part fantasy, A Finder's Magic makes a great book to read at bedtime to a 6 to 8 year old. Its slow pace and gentle progress make it a soothing read with good stopping points (from a grown-up's point of view), while the urgency of Till's need to find Bess and the strange way the Finder sets about his work keep the story interesting. It's not particularly the sort of book that a grown-up will curl up with herself (see Becky's review), but it is one my 8-year old son asked me or his father to keep on reading all the nights it was his bedtime book.
This is the last book Philippa Pearce (author of Tom's Midnight Garden) wrote before she died in 2006. She wrote it for her own two grandchildren, and the illustrator, Helen Craig (of Angelina Ballerina fame), is their other grandmother.