What You Need to Know:
• Friendship and compassion are key themes in this story.
• This picture book was a great new addition for 2010.
• Worth the purchase, you can read this book again and again.
• While the animals don’t talk, they all take on human qualities.
• The illustrations are incredibly engaging, thoughtful and charming.
Amos McGee is a gentle old man who seems content in his comfortable daily routine. He gets up early, winds his watch, enjoys his breakfast, and gets on the bus that takes him to his job at the nearby zoo. Although his days at the zoo are busy, he always makes time for his friends. He plays chess with the elephant, runs races with the tortoise, sits with the penguin, lends a handkerchief to the rhinoceros and reads with the owl. One day, when Amos wakes up, he finds that he’s not feeling well and decides to stay in bed. A two-page spread depicting the animals looking lonely and bored really communicates the impact of Amos’ absence.
The somewhat alliterative phrases (“arranged his pawns and polished his castles” and “penguin sat patiently”) describing how the animals pass the time, carry the reader through this sad day. Eventually, the animals take action and, as if it is the most normal thing in the world, they leave the zoo and take the bus over to Amos’ house. They find him sick in bed, but still thrilled to see them. They keep him company and return all the kindhearted favors that he had shown them during his visits at the zoo. They sit, read, have tea and in the end do what all good friends like to do – they have a sleepover!
This touching tale of friendship is written and illustrated by a husband and wife team, Philip and Erin Stead. It is the first book that Erin has illustrated and hopefully will not be the last. Her lovely illustrations, created by hand using woodblock printing techniques and pencil, contribute to the serenity of the story and the easy flow of the text. Each page is really a special work of art that could be studied on its own. From the gentle expression on Amos’ face to his bunny slippers and the teddy bear on his bed, the reader can tell that he is sweet and kind. Even his little blue house looks warm and inviting compared to the tall buildings that rise up in black and white on either side.
If you look closely, there are many interesting details throughout, like the little mouse under the bed, the bunny on the bus, and the single balloon that sails along with Amos. When it floats away at the end, I am reminded of Goodnight Moon. The strategic use of colors, mostly subtle with some clever pops of red, adds to the dramatic effect of the drawings. In the crowded world of picture books, this one stands out and I’m guessing it will be rewarded for its beauty. It has quickly become one of my favorites!
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