May 13 – It’s National Pet Month

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About the Holiday

Let’s give a shout-out to our best friends! Who are they? Our pets, of course! Small (or large) and fury (or feathered or scaled or finned), our pets give us unconditional love and loads of happiness. Just watching them navigate their day is entertaining and educational. National Pet Month was established to celebrate these in-home pals and remind pet owners to ensure that their pets have everything they need to live a long and healthy life. This month take extra time to have fun with your pet!

Where’d My Jo Go?

Written by Jill Esbaum | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

Jo and Big Al traveled everywhere together in her big rig. One day, though, as Jo was checking out the equipment at the truck stop, Big Al went exploring. While Jo got in the cab to “adjust a mirror, set the map. / Pull the belt across my lap. / Let another trucker pass. / Shift the gears, give ‘er gas,” Big Al had time at the park to “dodge a herd of stompy feet. / Sneak a lick of someone’s treat. / Chase a wrapper. Dig in dirt. / Give a tree a little squirt.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

After all that fun, Big Al knew it was time to get back to Jo and the truck, but when he reached the truck stop, his truck was nowhere to be found. He pondered: should he try to find his Jo? But decided it would be better to wait. Besides, he knew she’d be back for the “little doggie pal… / who shares her lunch, who guards the truck, / whose head she rub-rub-rubs for luck.” Big Al was sure Jo would return. “But…when?” He sat patiently at the truck stop guard rail overlooking the highway and watched the trucks come and go—but none of them were his.

Meanwhile, Jo had reached her destination. She called to Big Al to wake him up. But then she looked…and looked again. Where was Big Al?! At that moment, Al was running away from a “too-loud kid” who wanted to kiss him and take him home with her. As the day grew long and the sun began to set, the parking lot emptied, and Big Al wondered where his Jo could be. “Oh, Jo. Please, Jo, remember me. / No trucks. No people. Spooky. Late. / Chase a june bug. / Shiver. Wait.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Just then a car pulled in and a boy, Zach, got out. He spotted Big Al and grabbed a stick. He threw it for Al, who “Can. Not. Resist.” Zach thinks Al is lost and begs his dad to let him keep him. Big Al thinks “I should not, cannot, will not go. / But ohhh, I like Zack. Hurry, Jo.” It looks as if Big Al and Zack will become a team when, just in the nick of time, a truck appears. Could it be? “Onk-onk!Onk onnnnnnnnk!” Big Al says, “Yip-yip! Bye, Zack! I have to go! / I knew she’d come! It’s her! My Jo!”

An Author’s Note reveals the real-life event that sparked Jill’s imagination and led to her story. She also invites readers to try a prompt and write their own story.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Children will fall in love with Big Al as soon as they meet him. Full of curiosity and with a personality befitting his name, Big Al is a busy pup as he gets into mischief at a park near the truck stop. But when he returns to find his Jo is gone, he patiently waits, certain that she’ll be back. Jill Esbaum’s jaunty rhymes are as playful as Big Al, and readers will be charmed to follow the story from his point of view. Kids with pets will recognize all the small, special moments that people and pets share and be as eager for Jo’s return as Big Al. Esbaum adds humor and suspense as two kids interact with Big Al, making the just-in-the-nick-of-time reunion all the sweeter and more satisfying.

With his expressive eyes and funny antics, Scott Brundage’s adorable Big Al will charm children and have them rooting for his reunion with Jo throughout the story. Snapshots of Big Al and Jo sharing fun on their trips show their special bond and will melt readers’ hearts, and they’ll commiserate with Jo when she realizes that Big Al is missing. Vehicle-loving kids will be fascinated by the realistic images of big rigs in the truck stop and traversing the crisscrossing highways. Brundage makes the story into a visual roller-coaster (in the best way), and the final spread of Jo and Big Al together again will have kids shouting, let’s do it again!

For pet lovers, vehicle lovers, and anyone who has a best friend, Where’d My Jo Go? Is must reading. It would make a heartwarming addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110441

Discover more about Jill Esbaum and her books on her website.

To learn more about Scott Brundage, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Pet Month Activity

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Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

 

These puppies want to find a friend. Can you match the ones that go together in this printable puzzle? There may be more that one right answer!

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Where’d My Jo Go? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

December 11 – Get Ready for Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday.

Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

The city was decorated with twinkling lights for the holidays, and busy shoppers bustled in and out of stores, delivered there by Edgar and his cab. After one shift, Edgar was so tired he took a nap in the back seat. He was awakened when “Ohhhf! Something scrambled onto his chest. Ayyee! Something hairy brushed his face.” Edgar opened one eye to see… a hamster! He picked it up and gazed at its tiny eyes and ears and feet.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Edgar wondered which of his many customers may have lost the little hamster as he called in to the cab company’s lost and found department. Edgar took the little hamster home and shredded some paper to make him a bed. Then he went to his menorah, said the Hanukkah blessing, and lit two candles. All the next day as he drove people in his cab, Edgar wondered if someone had claimed the hamster, but no one did.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That night after lighting three candles, Edgar made a chopped salad dinner for himself and a tiny one for the hamster. As he watched the little animal nibble on a chickpea, Edgar asked, “‘Okay if I call you Chickpea?’” No one had claimed Chickpea the next day either, so Edgar went to the pet store and bought hamster food. At home, he lit four candles and gave Chickpea some food. As Chickpea ate, “Edgar took pictures on his phone and shared them with his family in Israel.”

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, Edgar made Chickpea “a slide out of a cardboard tube. Chickpea whooshed down. Wheeee! His nose twitched.” As the week of Hanukkah went on, Edgar was fearful that someone might call about their missing hamster. He spent the evenings telling Chickpea about Tel Aviv until the little one fell asleep.

The next day, Edgar took a customer to a neighborhood on the edge of town. There he saw a woman who looked familiar. With her was her son. “Edgar felt a punch in his heart.” But he rolled down the window and asked the boy if he’d lost a hamster. The woman answered that she had bought the hamster for her classroom and thought he had escaped at home. “Edgar showed them pictures on his phone” of Chickpea eating salad, sliding through the tube and drifting off to sleep.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the woman saw Edgar’s menorah in one of the pictures, Edgar told them how he and Chickpea were celebrating Hanukkah together since the rest of his family lived in Israel. When Edgar began to tell them that he could return the hamster tomorrow morning, “the boy touched his mother’s arm, and the two of them exchanged glances.” The woman told Edgar that she thought Chickpea belonged with him. Then she wished him a wonderful holiday. That night, “Edgar said the blessing and lit all the candles on the menorah.” Then, while he enjoyed a doughnut, Chickpea ran and ran on his new wheel.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.

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From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.

The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995

Discover more about Michelle Markel and her books on her website.

To learn more about André Ceolin, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity

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Festival of Lights Word Search

 

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Hamster at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review