Where’d My Jo Go? Meet illustrator Scott Brundage + book giveaway!

Cover art © Scott Brundage 2020

This oh-so-appealing doggy is Big Al. Early in this story, he becomes separated from his over-the-road trucker friend at an interstate rest stop (she thinks he’s sleeping in the back of the cab). Does he panic? Does he bark incessantly? Does he run off along the highway in search of her?

No. He tells himself to Sit. Stay. Wait for Jo. He knows his best friend will return for him. For sure. Probably. He hopes….

While he’s waiting, there are other dogs to meet, flowers to roll in, picnic leftovers to sniff. But when it gets dark… Oh, Jo. Please, Jo. Remember me.

This one’s based on a true story I saw in a newspaper. The article detailed the owner’s angst over the two-day ordeal (long story, but the book has an author’s note that explains). As I read the article, I kept thinking: But what about the dog? How’d HE feel? Poor little guy. My attempt to get into the dog’s head resulted in the manuscript that became Where’d My Jo Go? Fortunately, Sleeping Bear Press hired Scott Brundage to bring the story to life. And, boy. Did he ever.

Let’s just get to the interview. I want you to hear about Smoochie.

JE: Welcome to Picture Book Builders, Scott! What was it about this manuscript that made you want to illustrate the story?

SB: I’ll take drawing animals over people any day. The challenge of making the face of an animal emote as much as a human’s is so fun to tackle. Plus, it was about a dog. My editor didn’t tell me what breed of dog, just that it should be “small and expressive.” This meant I could audition all my friends’ pups to see who would work best. Luckily, my buddy Tyler’s dog, Smoochie, worked perfectly. He can look extremely sad one moment, then stoked to be alive the next. Also, I had just done back to back books on astronauts. So any story that didn’t involve space ships was very appealing. 

JE: Readers, in real life, the lost dog was a Yorkie. But I was happy to let Scott choose whatever breed he wanted. Scott, would you share a few of your initial sketches and tell us about anything that gave you trouble?

SB: I tried auditioning a couple dogs before sticking with Smoochie. My coworker’s dog, Cheezit, is an adorable mess of a mini-poodle that could have worked, but I found the curly hair to be a bit constricting when it came to expressions. 


JE: I’m glad you settled on Smoochie. Those eyes! Could you tell us more about him?

SB: Smoochie is a total mess of a dog, and I mean that in the very best way. Unfortunately, I got to meet him after a sad situation where his original owner passed away unexpectedly. My friend inherited Smoochie afterward, and Smoochie was pretty traumatized for a while. He only trusted Tyler and had anti anxiety collars to keep him calm. I’m glad to say he’s now a very well adjusted pup, living in a happy home with plenty of animal and human friends to play with. 

JE: That’s wonderful to hear. And Jo? How’d you come up with her?

SB: Another hurdle I had was landing on a design for Jo. If I were to close my eyes and think “truck driver” I’d likely just picture a big hairy man. I figured out pretty quickly that that wasn’t the route I wanted to take, plus my editor said the real Jo was female. So my initial designs were for a cute African American female driver. After a discussion with my editor again, we decided to adjust to the final design with the red-headed character that appears in the book. 
One of the more fun aspects of designing characters is thinking of how they’d dress, given what we know about them. Jo is a trucker, spends most of her time just with Big Al, mainly sitting in a truck. She’d likely dress more for comfort than presentation. So, croc-type shoes and a warm vest with stretchy leggings made the most sense to me, and a trucker hat just to top it all off. 

JE: That’s what I’d be wearing to drive a truck. Actually, the real Joe was a man. And his name wasn’t Joe…but I needed it to be for the sake of the rhyme. When our editor emailed to ask if I’d consider making Joe a Jo, I couldn’t type “Yes!” fast enough. There are lots of women truckers out there (being heroes right this very minute!).

SB: One of my very favorite spreads from this book is when Big Al is remembering good times with Jo and watching the highway for her truck to come back.  Whenever I can get away with bending reality a bit, I’ll certainly try. Big Al is starting to come to the notion he’s been left behind, and being a dog, highways don’t make a whole lot of sense and every truck could possibly be Jo, but none are. I think any child has had similar viewpoints waiting for a friend or parent to come pick them up or take them somewhere. Every vehicle might be the one they are waiting for. 

JE: So true.

SB: This vignette of Jo and Al sets the tone for their relationship. Buddies on the road together enjoying each other’s company. And for me, doing a bit of research on the interior of a big truck was great fun. Small details I could never come up with on my own help make the image more interesting. 

I loved all the sequential spot illustrations I got to make for this story. This page, in particular, was super fun with the droopy hound faces and showing Al’s regretful decision to sample an old French fry.

JE: Ha. These doggy expressions are terrific. There are so many great bits in this book, Scott. What kinds of projects do you have in the works?

SB: I just finished part of a season designing characters for Our Cartoon President on Showtime. I have some other animation projects in the works for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and some small films. 

I’m also about to start a new picture book. This time about a bird and cow. So, obviously I’m very excited to jump into that one.

JE: Wow. You’re busy! Thanks, Scott, for taking time out to visit with us. Best of luck on your many projects.

Scott Brundage

Readers, Scott did an interview with the folks at KidLit911 awhile back. You can read that here.

And you can visit his website, here.

Where’d My Jo Go? releases April 15th, but you can preorder now! You might also WIN one of the THREE copies I’m giving away. All you have to do is leave a comment below. Thanks! (U.S. residents only, please.)

Meanwhile, the three winners of Frog Boots, the new book I featured on my last post, are Mark Ceilley, Zachary Snyder, and Debra Shumaker! Congrats, and thanks for entering!!!

Stay well, everybody.

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of more than 50 children's books. Recent picture books include JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection), HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She is also the author of a graphic early reader series, Thunder & Cluck (another Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). In addition, she has authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including several titles in the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF–– series. Next year brings her first humorous informational fiction pb, STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at www.jillesbaum.com


  1. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Looks like such a sweet story! And wow! The illustrations. AMAZING!

    And thanks again, Jill, for Frog Boots! I was thrilled to win it! 🙂

  2. I love hearing about how illustrators go about creating the characters! Thanks for a great interview!

  3. What a great team Jill and Scott! Your books comes from some great sources of inspiration.

  4. I can’t wait for this book to come out. So many of the students at my school love dogs and they will love this one. What would make if even better, is if Jill could read it to them!!

  5. Congrats, Jill & Scott! This looks adorable.

  6. It is so interesting to learn about the stories behind the books. Thanks for this great interview and congratulations to both you and Scott.

  7. Sounds like an awesome story with the best art to bring it alive! Can’t wait to meet Jo and her friend Big Al. 🙂

  8. Great interview! My husband came from a family of truck drivers, and, in our current situation, we are truly aware of our dependence on them. This looks like a heartwarming and fun book. I can’t wait to read it.

  9. This popr brave little pup make me want to cry. This is going in my library for sure.

  10. Such an amazing story. I’m pleased it was a happy ending for Jo and Big Al.

  11. Danielle Hammelef

    I have a big heart for dogs in books and this one looks heartwarming. I love the artwork!

  12. People: I have read this book, and it is beautiful!

  13. I love this so much, Jill! Congratulations!! And Smoochie is adorable. Glad his story has a happy ending! Excited to read it!

  14. Makes me wonder how many other animals are out there waiting for their owners to appear and take them back into the comfortable, loving world they have known.
    This book makes the reader sensitive to that and joyous when Jo and Smoochie do reunite!

  15. Wow. Thanks for the great behind the scenes interview. I can’t wait to see the finished book!

  16. Awww! I love the premise of this book. And the art is amazing. My daddy was a trucker and a rig appears in one of my manuscripts too.

  17. Carole Calladine

    What an adorable concept and buddy pair. Congrats on your new book.

  18. This looks adorable! Congratulations!

  19. This book sounds adorable and heartwarming. Another winner!

  20. Pamela Harrison

    I love the way the image of Al evolved. His little doggy face is so expressive. This looks like a fun book with a lot of heart. I can’t wait to read it.

  21. Congratulations to you and Scott on your new book! I love getting a window into the creative process of an illustrator, especially one who can capture a dog’s emotions so brilliantly. I look forward to reading it!

  22. Cynthia Wyszynski

    Can’t wait to read this book – I remember the newspaper article. Great illustrations!

  23. This book looks amazing! The real life Smoochie could literally be my dog, Smidgey’s brother (just replace the brown spots with black)! Our Smidgey came from a rough beginning and has had many misadventures. Mostly she has captured our hearts, just like Al will for young readers. Thanks for the story and illustration insight. 🙂

  24. The expressiveness of these illustrations is amazing. And I loved the African American driver. Maybe she could pop-up in another story or have one of her own.

  25. What a great behind-the-scenes look at WHERE’D MY JO GO! Congratulations Jill and Scott!! I love the heart of this story and the emotion in Big Al’s eyes. ❤️

  26. Scott Brundage is one of my most favorite illustrators. His finished pieces are so lively and spirited, so it was wonderful to see all the character work and rough drafts that go into the process of making his finished illustrations feel effortless.
    An insightful interview! 🙂

  27. Jodie Chapdelaine

    My students love books about animals. Amazing drawings. Thank you for a chance.

  28. Great interview and Smoochie is adorable! I can’t wait to read the book.

  29. The book looks awesome! Great job!

  30. I love dogs, and I can’t wait to read this story. The pictures of dogs are GREAT!!
    Lots of over the road truckers have dogs riding with them. Jo is adorable too.

  31. Looks like a wonderful Author-Artist combo to me. Congrats.

  32. Can’t wait to see this one, Jill and Scott. Those doggie expressions are priceless!

  33. Years ago, you were leading a critique group at an SCBWI conference and you shared a draft of this story. I remember thinking your “rough draft” was better than any story I had written and polished. I also remember thinking it was a brilliant idea and I’m not surprised to see it published. The illustrations are adorable and the dog is so expressive. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  34. I loved hearing about the process Scott used to capture Big Al’s emotions so perfectly! I’m so excited to get my hands on this book! Congrats to you, Jill and Scott!

  35. I’ve been waiting for this book since I heard what the story was about. I love dog and knowing it is based on a true story made it all the more interesting. Now I see these beautiful illustrations and realize that one of the characters is Big Al!! (That’s what they call my dad.) So…
    I guess need to find this book.

    Great work, Jill and Scott.

  36. Congratulations!!! What a sweet story! WE lost our cat for one night and it was just terrible and it was my son who wondered how she might be feeling. Your dogs are soooo expressive.

  37. Thanks for another great story. Hearing the illustrators process is interesting. How he decided on the breed of the dog and making sure it was expressive.

  38. Love hearing the story behind the story and illustration! We, too, had a pup named Smoochie ? Looking forward to reading this book!

  39. The emotion on the cover is heart wrenching! A book that begs to be read. Thanks for sharing the process

  40. Looks like a fun story! Fun to hear about the path to illustrations. My 7 year old was peaking over my shoulder with much interest as was rereading. He loves dogs and loves drawing and currently wants to write (like mom) and illustrate. I had to start over to reread to him. He wanted to read the book right away.

  41. I love a good dog book, Jill! And I agree, Smoochie is the perfect model for this dog!

  42. What a fun interview. So interesting to understand his thinking process and how he makes your words come even more alive. Can’t wait to share this with my grands!!

  43. This book is bursting with heart. I love it so much. Congrats to you both!

  44. I love dog stories…especially heartwarming true ones. Congratulations on such a lovely book.

  45. This looks so cute! I’m a teacher and I’d love to share it with my students!

  46. Oh I cannot wait to get this for my students!!! Thanks for a great blog post and congratulations on this fabulous new book!

  47. Looks adorable! Thanks for the opportunity to share this with my fourth graders.

  48. Nice interview. I like that the story is based on real events. I really love the illustration of the basset hound (I just love basset hounds!). Congratulations Jill and Scott.

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