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Sometimes children's book reviewers bandy about the term "classic" like it was a verbal shuttlecock. There's nothing that raises the savvy readers' eyebrows faster than to see some wordsmith drooling profusely over "a new classic" or a book merely "destined to become a classic". Even worse is when they start calling a book "old-fashioned". Nine times out of then what they're talking about is the fact that the book parrots some picture book title of the past. That's the crazy thing about A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It doesn't parrot anyone, and when you read it you feel like you've know the book your whole life. Could have been written last year, ten years ago, or fifty. Doesn't matter because the word "timeless" may as well be stamped all over each and every doggone page. 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.

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.
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on July 25, 2010
Philip C. Stead's charming story about a zookeeper and his animal companions is matched beautifully with the elegant pencil drawings and woodblock printings by his wife, Erin. E. Stead. From the very start the reader is drawn in by a warm two-page spread that depicts Amos' bedroom. The action that moves the viewer's eye towards the right- Amos stretching as his day begins and his armoire opened invitingly- is complemented by a series of strong vertical lines. There are the wide yellow stripes of the wallpaper and the thin green stripes on his pajamas. The effect is a sense of being enveloped, or better yet, being hugged. It is a feeling appropriate in a story about mutual affection, genuine kindness, and true friendship.

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.
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on January 13, 2011
Our librarian threw this new book in with our requested items because she thought we would enjoy it. Boy, was she right! Sweet, sweet story with unique and fascinating illustrations. I couldn't get enough of the pictures. I've already looked to see if Stead illustrated other books,

I highly recommend this book for toddlers and preschoolers. LOVE IT!
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on January 11, 2011
A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a very sweet book about a friendship between a zookeeper named Amos and the animals he cares for. When Amos gets sick, his friends elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinocerous and owl come to his house to comfort and care for him. Erin McGee's lovely, layered illustrations convincingly depict the friendship between Amos and the zoo animals.

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.

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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2010
I absolutely LOVE beautifully illustrated books, especially young children's books. This one fits the bill.

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.
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on May 16, 2011
As a child psychologist and parent of young children, this book is my favorite!! A beautiful and simple story about friendship with remarkable illustrations accompanying it:) I highly recommend it and can easily see why it won many awards!!
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on November 11, 2012
They say when you're down that's when you learn who your true friends really are and the value you place in each other. In this heartfelt story, Amos McGee repeats the same daily routines every day. He makes tea, catches a bus, goes to the zoo, and engages with each animal in a special way. When Amos doesn't show up for work one day the animals pay a visit to their friend. The take a bus to Amos and each cheer him up in their own special way after having tea. This story is a wonderful book that teaches about the importance of good friends and focuses on memory, attention, retrieval, repetition and rehearsal. Children learn, gain and remember information through repetition and learn to process events in sequence so that they can predict what happens next.
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on June 3, 2010
This is a beautiful book! The artwork is captivating and the story is perfect for young children. I want to review this book early because it's sure to be a classic :)

"A Sick Day for Amos McGee" follows a Amos McGee, a friendly zookeeper through a typical day when he visits many of his animal friends, then his atypical sick day when his animal friends wonder where he is and their adventure that ensues. The animals are adorable and you can't help but love friendly, old Amos. The artwork is truly brilliant and kids will love searching for "easter eggs" on each page, including a red balloon and small mouse and bird that follow the animals and Amos through their adventures.

A beautiful, fun and heartwarming book. You and your kids will both love it and read it at bedtime for years :)
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on July 21, 2011
This book is a must-have for a family's book collection. It's well-written, and the illustrations are nice. It's very easy for a 4 year old to understand and captures the heart of the parent as well. Lovely.
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VINE VOICEon June 27, 2010
Amos is a busy zoo keeper who loves his job! He takes time each day to visit with all the animals. He has a special relationship with each one and has certain routines that he and the animals go though each day. One day Amos is sick and unable to come into work. The animals miss him so much that they decide that they must visit Amos! They hop on a city bus and head straight to Amos' house! When they arrive the animals take good care of him and keep him company just like he does for them at the zoo!

I would recommend this book to others. It is a very sweet tale of friendship. It would also make a good story time book during a unit of zoos.
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