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Prepare to tear up with book about pups

There’s a hole in your heart.

Not really, but it might feel that way when someone you love is gone. It’s like you’re a potato chip bag without chips, or like a balloon with no air. You’re just plain empty, as though you’ve sprung a leak. But as you’ll see in the new book “My Old Pal, Oscar” by Amy Hest, illustrated by Amy Bates, there’ll come a time when you’ll feel better.

That dog was just hanging around.

He followed the little boy, dug around the boy’s sand castle, shook water everywhere and made big prints in the sand with his fat little feet. The boy had no idea who the dog was. The dog wasn’t saying, either.

The boy tried to leave the dog behind. He said “goodbye” to the dog many times, but the little black and white pup kept following right behind the boy. It was annoying. Nope, the boy wasn’t even going to look at the dog. “No way.”

The boy knew that the dog wanted to be friends, but it just wasn’t going to happen again. The boy already had a friend once that looked just like the pup. That friend’s name was Oscar, and he was the boy’s “one and only dog.”

No more dogs, ever again. Nuh-uh, Oscar was it, end of story.

But the little dog had such big black eyes.

Maybe it would be OK if the pup walked along the beach with the boy. Just once, and the boy told the little dog all about Oscar.

Oscar was a big fan of the beach and of sunshine and wind and water. Because Oscar loved the sea, that was where the boy went to say goodbye on the day after Oscar died. He even drew a picture of Oscar and kept it near his pillow at night. He’d never stop being sad about Oscar, and he didn’t want another dog.

But then, it started to rain. Oscar loved rain, but this little pup obviously didn’t. The boy couldn’t just leave the furry guy outside, could he? No, he couldn’t, and besides, he had a whole lot more Oscar stories to tell.

Here’s fair warning: If your family has ever loved a dog, it’s going to be really hard not to get teary while reading this book to your child. Very hard.

And yet, you’ll smile through your tears, both at Bates’ bouncy little dog illustrations and at the boy’s wavering determination and his need to remember. We’ve all stared grief in the face and vowed our never-agains, but the way the boy tackles his sorrow and his willingness to try again — it’s just right for kids ages 5 to 8 and for any adult who craves that comfort.

Hest touches hearts all over the place in this book, and though this can be a delicate subject, I think she hits all the right spots. If your child misses someone very beloved, “My Old Pal, Oscar” will rightly fill the hole in his bookcase.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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