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. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is the first collaborative effort by the husband-and-wife team of Philip and Erin Stead, and even their dedication is intertwined as each acknowledges the other in a never-ending circle of words. Their overlapping partnership produces illustrations and text in easy harmony for this understated tale sprinkled with subtle humor.
Amos is an elderly zookeeper who lives alone and methodically follows his daily routine. He schedules time to interact tenderly with each animal according to its need. In turn, when he doesn’t show up for work, the animals reciprocate by taking the bus to check on their sick caretaker. They know just what he needs and gently modify their activities to adjust to his condition. With their friend on the mend, they all fall asleep in a friendly huddle.
The background scenery is as orderly as Amos’ life. The visual rhythm of the uncluttered illustrations reinforces the simple pattern of his day, but the pictures hold some surprises of their own. Cleverly embedded numbers, an errant balloon and stowaways in the periphery all invite a closer look. The unusual mixture of pencil drawing and softly colored wood block printing enhances the peaceful tone and introduces a new look to picture books.
This is a heart-warming story, comforting without a lot of fuss. It’s an obvious choice as a reassuring read on a child’s sick day or before bedtime, but it would also be one to keep in mind for any time a quiet break is in order.
The Steads’ expressive depiction of mutual caring has me anxiously anticipating future installments from this new team.