Today (December 27) is Visit the Zoo Day—and I’m reminded of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, a charming picture book published earlier this year. About an elderly zookeeper and his loyal animal friends, this book, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, has been getting great word of mouth. Read the story and take a look at the lovely pencil-and-woodblock-print illustrations and you’ll see why.


Every morning, Amos McGee wakes up early, winds his watch, makes breakfast, and rides the bus to the City Zoo, where he works. He “had a lot to do at the zoo, but he always made time to visit his good friends.” This means playing chess with the elephant, running races with the tortoise, sitting quietly with the penguin, wiping the rhinoceros’ nose, and reading stories to the owl at sunset. One day, however, Amos wakes up “with the sniffles, and the sneezes, and the chills.” Alas, he’s too sick to go to work. The animals miss their friend, Amos, and decide to pay him a visit. (Two wordless double-page spreads show the wild creatures traveling via the same bus route—owl is looking at his pocket watch; penguin holds a balloon.) ‘“Hooray! My good friends are here!”’ cries Amos, when the animals arrive at his home. They spend the afternoon taking care of and entertaining their human pal. This time, rhinoceros is the one lending the handkerchief and owl reads a story out loud. Then they all settle in for a most unusual sleepover. The last page depicts Amos contentedly sleeping while his menagerie cuddles around him.


There are so many things to love about A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It’s a gentle, sweet tale about friendship and caring for each other. And kids will relish the role reversal of the animals tending to their zookeeper. Both the text and pictures contain details that exude personality and sly humor (the tortoise never loses a race, penguins apparently love balloons and have cold feet, and the owl is afraid of the dark). Kudos to Erin Stead for her exquisite expressive illustrations—according to the back jacket flap, this is her debut effort. I’m looking forward to seeing more books from this talented husband-and-wife team!


Are you familiar with A Sick Day for Amos McGee? What do you think of it? Can you suggest other children's books set in a zoo?

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