A Sick Day for Amos McGee Hardcover – May 25 2010
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“Observant readers will notice tiny surprises hidden in plain sight: a red balloon, a tiny mouse and sparrow popping up here and there in the story. Erin E. Stead, the illustrator, overlays her pencil sketches with gentle tones of pink, peach, blue and green, and bright red spots that belie the deceptive ordinariness of the text.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Thick, creamy paper and a muted palette add to the gentle resonance of a story that ends with everyone tucked in at last for a sweet night's sleep.” ―Washington Post
“It's hard to believe that this is Erin Stead's first children's book-her woodcut and oil-ink artwork is so warmly appealing that she seems like an old pro.” ―Time Out New York Kids
“Here is a book that exemplifies that happy combination where words and pictures carry equal weight and yet somehow create a whole that defies arithmetic.” ―BookPage
“Newcomer Erin Stead's elegant woodblock prints, breathtaking in their delicacy, contribute to the story's tranquility and draw subtle elements to viewers' attention.” ―Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Erin E. Stead's beautifully wrought woodblock prints and pencil work create almost painfully expressive characters...This gentle, ultimately warm story acknowledges the care and reciprocity behind all good friendships.” ―Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review
“Erin Stead's attentively detailed pencil and woodblock illustrations reveal character and enhance the cozy mood of Philip Stead's gentle text.” ―Horn Book Magazine
“Whether read individually or shared, this gentle story will resonate with youngsters.” ―School Library Journal
“Like the story, the quiet pictures, rendered in pencil and woodblock color prints, are both tender and hilarious… The extension of the familiar pet-bonding theme will have great appeal, especially in the final images of the wild creatures snuggled up with Amos in his cozy home.” ―Booklist
“If you want to give a child a book that will remain with them always (and lead to decades of folks growing up and desperately trying to relocate it with the children's librarians of the future) this is the one that you want. Marvelous.” ―Fuse # 8 blog
About the Author
Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead won the Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, their first book together. Philip is also the author and illustrator of Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast. They divide their time between Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York City.
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Each morning it's the same. Amos McGee gets out of bed, puts on his uniform, and goes to his job as zookeeper in the City Zoo. Amos takes his job very seriously. He always makes sure to play chess with the elephant, run races with the tortoise, sit quietly with the penguin, blow the rhino's runny nose, and tell stories to the owl at dusk. Then one day Amos wakes up sick and has to stay in bed. The animals, bereft of his presence, decide something must be done. So they pick themselves up and take the bus to Amos's house to keep him company for a change. And after everyone helps him out, Amos reads them all a story and each one of them tucks in for the night.
It's strange to think that author Philip Stead wrote both this and last year's Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast. Not that the latter was a bad book or anything, mind you, but that was a case where the protagonist had to be a perpetual crankypants. The character of Amos simply couldn't be more different. He's like a cross between your favorite grandpa and Mr. Rogers. I read through this book several times to get down the cadence of Mr. Stead's wordplay too. He's prone to terms like "amble". He parallels Amos's activities in the first half with similar activities with the animals are taking care of him in the second. He knows when to leave sections wordless. And at the end, the "goodnight" section sort of makes this an ideal bedtime book for small fry. Practically invokes Goodnight Moon it does.
There's definitely a Sebastian Meschenmoser quality to this book (a statement that is going to be understood by approximately three people out there). Meschenmoser is a German illustrator who has written titles like Learning to Fly and Waiting for Winter. Erin Stead's style is similar partly because there is a common humanity to every animal she draws. It's not just the anthropomorphic details, like a penguin in socks (an animal Meschenmoser shares an affection for). It's deeper than that. Look at this cover and then stare deep into that elephant's eyes. There are layers to that elephant. That elephant has seen things in its day and has come out the wiser for it. It could tell you stories that would curl your hair or make you laugh till it hurt. That's what I see when I look at a Stead animal. I see a creature that has had a rich full life, and all because of how she has chosen to put pencil/woodblock to paper. Amos McGee himself could not be any better. You love him from the moment he stretches in his pajamas. Everyone here, from the owl to the tortoise is someone you believe in.
Add onto all that the little tiny details as well. How Amos and the penguin sit and stand together, ankles turned inward. The fate of the penguin's red balloon. Where Mr. McGee's teddy bear is at any given time. The portrait of the penguin in the home. The rabbit reading a newspaper on the bus. And then there's the penultimate spread where the animals gather around Amos as he gets ready to go to bed. His left foot rest gently against the rhino's nose, his left hand on the elephant's trunk. Very simple, natural, affectionate touches. You notice them, but you don't. That's the charm.
So there's the content. Now look at the actual art and design. According to the bookflap, Erin creates her illustrations by hand using woodblock printing techniques and pencil." That's impressive in and of itself, but I think the use of color is fascinating. Ms. Stead is sparing. On the one hand, you're never able to identify the book's exact year. On the other, you know in the back of your brain that if the publisher wanted to use all the colors of the rainbow, they could. You could also read the book several times before you noticed the elaborate flower design that ties the horizon in place behind the runny nosed rhino. Little touches, but necessary.
Husband and wife author/illustrator teams emerge once in a while, but they don't always have the golden touch. That the Steads not only have it but are also willing to use it as a force for good instead of evil is gratifying. It's also gratifying to think that maybe we'll see them do more books in the future. I'd like that. I'd like that very much, and I'm wagering that a whole generation of children reading and loving this book are going to like it as well. Here, I'll make it simple for you: Need to buy a picture book for a kid between the ages of four and eight? Buy this one. There you go. Problem solved.
For ages 4-8.
Amos McGee is an older gentleman (in the truest sense of the term) who lives in a little house sandwiched between two high-rise apartment buildings (a nod to Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, I presume). Each morning after a bit of oatmeal and tea, Amos heads out in a fresh-pressed uniform to begin his workday at the City Zoo. It is clear from the first glimpse that this zoo is atypical: outside the gate, sitting high in a branch of a tree on the sidewalk, sits a monkey as comfortable as can be; inside the gate we can see a giraffe frolicking on the wide lawn. It doesn't appear that these animals reside in the usual enclosures. Indeed, the animals seem to enjoy a life more akin to a fancy retirement community. We discover that Amos spends his days playing chess with the elephant, running races with the tortoise, sitting quietly with the shy penguin, soothing the rhino's runny nose, and reading bedtime tales to the owl. It only makes sense that when Amos comes down with a bad cold and cannot make it to work, his animal friends hop on the bus and take care of him in the same gentle, loving way.
Besides the artfully understated beauty of the story and the characters, A Sick Day for Amos McGee stands out from almost all other picture books I've seen this year for the absolute genius in its visual storytelling. Erin E. Stead does not merely illustrate. She breathes life into an already delightful story while adding many more layers of expression.
Stead's attention to the smallest details is what allows the reader/viewer to experience this book many times over and still discover surprises each time: from the miniature bus stop for the mouse to the tie-wearing bird; from the sweet absurdity of Amos' bunny slippers to the depiction of a penguin donning floaties. Even Stead's use of woodblock printing to add texture and a bit of color is thoughtful and well-used. It is apparent throughout the work that each pencil line, each color choice, each wrinkle in Amos' face or in the folds of the tortoises' knees, was deliberate and made with a careful eye and a loving hand. Stead has achieved elegance with an organic heart. There is nothing stuffy or too-precise about her lines. Rather, her remarkable drawing skills clearly allow her to bring an incredible warmth and individual personality to each character. The slightly retro feel of Amos' surroundings (his antique stove and pocket watch, the 1950's-esque bus, the lack of any modern technology) combined with the use of white space give the book a pleasant stillness and leisureliness.
Some books come into existence and it seems as if they have (or should have) always existed. They possess something timeless and fundamental. Perhaps they float in that creative ether, just waiting for the perfect author and artist to bring them to life. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is just such a book.
I highly recommend this book for toddlers and preschoolers. LOVE IT!
I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to sharing it with my children. As a child, I would have loved imaging befriending the animals in this story. As a parent, I hope my children are surrounded by such thoughtful friends.
The story begins with an older man who wakes up alone and makes his way by bus to his job at the zoo. He befriends animals there who begin to look forward to his arrival. He seems like a gentle soul. When he doesn't arrive for work the next day, the animals decide to take the bus to see him. The end up caring for him at his home.
My one knock on this book is a personal one - animals are seen doing human-like acts, which I think confuses young children. But I know some adults think this is fun for the kids.
So the story is gentle which appeals to me, but what really knocks my socks off is the illustrations. It's the first by this woman, the author's wife, and I hope she does more. I was so intrigued by the face of the man she drew, and the animals look very realistic. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.
Great for ages 4-8.