A LITTLE LIBRARY - 'Sick Day' a feel-good read

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I drove my co-worker home in the middle of the morning today. She had come into work with a cold and had muddled through some of her most urgent tasks.

Sometimes it's hard to take a sick day. My stressed-out, slow-moving mind usually protests: "I'm too busy to be sick! There's so much to get done!" If you are lucky and have a job you really enjoy, it can be hard to sit around the house while work goes on.

Such is the case for Amos in the beautifully illustrated "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" (Roaring Brook Press, 2010). Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, the children's story has the charm of a much older book. And while it is a quiet read, it has a lively spirit.

Amos is a kindly old zookeeper who gets up early every morning and takes the bus to work, where he spends special time with each animal in turn. One morning, when Amos stays home sick, his animal friends take the bus to visit him.

I've been meaning to branch out from award-winners ("Sick Day" won the Caldecott for 2011), but I can't help but be pulled in by "Sick Day's" superb illustrations.

Erin Stead mixes pencil drawings with woodblock printing techniques for a result that is simply delightful. She creates a world populated with realistic images, careful outlines and soft, neat colors.

Details make this world truly absorbing - a tiny mouse waits at a tiny bus stop, a shy penguin sports brightly colored socks, and a pair of cute bunny slippers appear on Amos himself. Her artistry isn't limited to the corners of the page - her animals are realistic and drawn to scale, and she makes them uniquely relatable characters by capturing expressions like bashfulness or happy pride.

Philip Stead's story-telling pairs perfectly with his wife's magical artwork.While he tells a simple story that is easily followed, he selects words carefully; words like "clanging," "amble," and "polished" are the linguistic counterparts to illustrations of a tiny bird or a red balloon added on the page.

He puts a spunky spin on expected ideas (such as the wise owl or the slow tortoise) by portraying each animal with unique qualities. The penguin is quite shy, for example, and the owl loves bedtime stories because he is afraid of the dark.

These lovely elements make "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" a joy to read.Ultimately, this is a story of friendship and the practical ways that love can be shown. Each day, Amos kindly cares for his animal friends, and one day they care for him by keeping him company, playing games, and reading him a bedtime story - just as he always did with them.

It's the usual lesson of sharing and kindness in a story stripped of moral or nagging. "Sick Day" is a comforting story of friends being there for each other. Regardless of whether you're old enough to go to work, it's just the sort of thing to read when you have to stay home sick.

Zoey Smith works at the Whitman College Bookstore and is helping expand the children's book section. She can be reached at smithze@whitman.edu.

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