Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sneezles: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Amos McGee was an early riser.

Every morning when the alarm clock clanged, he swung his legs out of bed and swapped his pajamas for a fresh-pressed uniform.

Amos McGee lives a very orderly life. Skinny and slightly stooped, gray-haired, and nondescript, each morning he has his pot of tea and takes a very early bus to his job as a zookeeper.

Although he is a diligent worker, Amos always has time for his animal friends. He takes the time for chess with the elephant, although his opponent takes a rather long time to make up his ponderous mind over each move. He sits for a while with his friend the penguin, runs a race with the big tortoise, a provides a clean hankie for the rhinoceros, who seems always to have a rhinovirus in his nose. Amos even stays after quitting time to read a story to the owl, whom he knows is unaccountably afraid of the dark.

Then one day, Amos is not an early riser.

Amos awoke with sniffles, and sneezes, and chills.

He swung his legs out of bed, swung them back and said, "Ugh. I don't think I'll be going to work today."

At the zoo, Amos is very much missed. His friends grow anxious about his absence, and as the day wears down, they solemnly assemble at the gate, walk down the street to the bus stop, the penguin bringing along a red balloon for the absent Amos. Amos' companions fill the small bus, balloon and all, and make their way to Amos' house.

There they find Amos alone in bed, still a bit under the weather, and his friends know just what to do to make him feel better. Elephant sets up the chess board and plays a gently-paced game, while penguin warms his feet. Since Amos is not up to races, the tortoise plays a quiet game of hide-and-seek. Rhino produces a supply of clean handkerchiefs for Amos' snuffly nose. Owl prepares a light supper and pours everyone a cup of tea.

Amos wound his alarm clock.

"It's getting late," he said. "After all, we have a morning bus to catch."

And when twilight darkens the room, the owl reads Amos a bedtime story, just in case he is afraid of the dark, and they all settle down in for a friendly sleep-over.

Philip Stead's and Christian Phillips' A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook Press, 2010) is as modest and unassuming a little book as its main character, but one that speaks volumes about the nature of friendship. Erin Stead's carefully constructed woodblock illustrations carry infinite quiet details which will draw children's attention long after the simply-told tale is done.

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