Tuesday, November 6, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

It's Day 6 of Picture Book Month, and I must be in an emotional frame of mind because when I reread today's choice in preparation for this post, the first word that popped into my head was love. Love and books are kind of inextricably entwined for me personally - not only do I adore books, as you all know, but the experience of reading has long been linked with love. It's the love of a small child curling up with a beloved adult and listening to a story, or the quiet contemplation of a lazy day reading with a sweetheart. Love and books, love of books: call it what you will, it's magic.

As a mom, I think one of the important vehicles I have to show love to Sprout is by making time for special connections with him. We connect in lots of ways, of course, but I especially adore the end of the night. He's freshly bathed, snuggly in pajamas with his favorite stuffies and blankets. I'm winding down from a manic day and taking a quiet breath to be with my kid. We share news of the day, read stories, and then I sing him to sleep. It's my way of saying, with words and with actions, how much I love him.

You'll probably pick up on the thread of love in this book too -- it's A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. Amos McGee is a zookeeper, and he's a man of predictability. Same breakfast every day, same route to work, same ways to gently connect with his friends at the zoo (which include a chess-playing elephant and an owl who's scared of the dark). All is right with everyone's world because you can count on Amos. But one day Amos doesn't show up. His animal friends are worried, naturally, so they set out to find out what's wrong. And they end up doing for Amos all the things he does for them, making his day just as perfect as a sick day can be.

I promised myself at the outset of this project that I'd try to emphasize hidden gems. Amos McGee certainly isn't one of these, since illustrator Erin E. Stead won the Caldecott for it. But oh my stars, is it ever a fantastic book! The story is pitch-perfect, not a word wasted or out of place. And the illustrations are impeccably, achingly skillful. Every line of the rhino's brow shows us his character, every fold in Amos's uniform speaks of his dedication. If you love illustrations, you'll want to seek this one out and add it to your home library. It's the kind of volume you never get tired of. (Look for more of Erin Stead's amazing art work in Julie Fogliano's And Then It's Spring.)

Contrary to the sappy homily, if you love something, you don't set it free. You hold it close and nurture it, as do the characters in this elegant tale, and it'll make everyone all the richer.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, published by Roaring Brook Press

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