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Top 100 Picture Books #18: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

#18 A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010)
71 points

Too soon to appear? I think not. Amos and his friends feel as if they have been with us forever, as they will be. Also because the penguin’s red socks are just so irresistible. – DaNae Leu

This is a recent book, but it’s destined to be a classic. Everytime I read this book I feel the need to hug the book at the end-that’s how much I love it. Amos and his animals feel so real and I love being part of their story for awhile. – Sarah

The last time this poll for picture books was conducted the year was 2009.  That is the sole reason, insofar as I can tell, that A Sick Day for Amos McGee did not make the Top 100.  After all, it’s a modern classic.

The description from my review reads, “Each morning it’s the same. Amos McGee gets out of bed, puts on his uniform, and goes to his job as zookeeper in the City Zoo. Amos takes his job very seriously. He always makes sure to play chess with the elephant, run races with the tortoise, sit quietly with the penguin, blow the rhino’s runny nose, and tell stories to the owl at dusk. Then one day Amos wakes up sick and has to stay in bed. The animals, bereft of his presence, decide something must be done. So they pick themselves up and take the bus to Amos’s house to keep him company for a change. And after everyone helps him out, Amos reads them all a story and each one of them tucks in for the night.”

In an interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Ms. Stead spoke a little bit about creating this book.  It was her first picture book, written by her husband, and she explained her process to Jules, beginning with “The first tactic I use in order to make a picture is to avoid my drawing table area entirely. I’ll walk the dog, sit on the porch, or bake. There is too much pressure at the drawing table, and I like to get to know my characters before I draw them. Once I feel confident navigating a blank piece of paper, I do a sketch or two. Some are better than others, but most are not very pretty.”

  • You can read the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac piece on the book here.

PW said, “Newcomer Erin Stead’s elegant woodblock prints, breathtaking in their delicacy, contribute to the story’s tranquility and draw subtle elements to viewers’ attention: the grain of the woodblocks themselves, Amos’s handsome peacock feather coverlet. Every face–Amos’s as well as the animals’–brims with personality. Philip Stead’s (Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast) narrative moves with deliberate speed, dreaming up a joyous life for the sort of man likely to be passed on the street without a thought.”

Said SLJ, “The artwork in this quiet tale of good deeds rewarded uses woodblock-printing techniques, soft flat colors, and occasional bits of red. Illustrations are positioned on the white space to move the tale along and underscore the bonds of friendship and loyalty. Whether read individually or shared, this gentle story will resonate with youngsters.”

Booklist had an unexpected take, saying, “The extension of the familiar pet-bonding theme will have great appeal, especially in the final images of the wild creatures snuggled up with Amos in his cozy home.”

Kirkus was eloquent, saying “This gentle, ultimately warm story acknowledges the care and reciprocity behind all good friendships: Much like Amos’s watch, they must be wound regularly to remain true.”

And here Ms. Stead discusses her woodblock process for one and all.

Didn’t hurt matters when the President & Fam read the book for Easter.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I love this book even more now that I’ve read about how it came to be. The illustrator’s shyness is somehow reflected in the style and tone of this book. Her new book about spring is also very beautiful.

  2. Wow. How about that! Top 20! Another well deserved accolade for one of my favorites.