Amos McGee is a zookeeper–based on the illustrations not in the first flush of youth, but with a certain childlike air about him: aside from sleeping with a teddy bear and wearing bunny slippers, every day he asks the sugar bowl for “one spoonful for my oatmeal, and two for my tea”. At the zoo, he plays chess with the elephant, proffers handkerchiefs to the rhinoceros which appropriately1 has a perpetually runny nose, sits quietly with the shy penguin, runs races with the tortoise, and reads bedtime stories to the owl, who’s afraid of the dark.
One day, however, he wakes up with a bad cold/flu and cannot make it to the zoo! Worried at their friend’s absence, his animal friends take that very same bus back to their caretaker’s house, and do for him what he has done for them every day previously: care for him and keep him company. The rhinoceros presents a handkerchief when Amos sneezes, the penguin sits quietly while Amos naps to keep Amos’ feet warm, the tortoise plays hide-and-seek, the owl reads everyone a bedtime story and so on.
As is only appropriate for a book which won the Caldecott, the illustrations are wonderful. I love the illustration for the animals’ trip–animals seated, in an orderly fashion, behind a very nonchalant driver, but the details running through the book are marvelous. A small bird–sparrow? robin?– holding up a “HOORAY” sign as the tortoise crosses the finish line first, a mouse under Amos’ bed holding what is presumably Amos’ pocket watch, a balloon that floats along with the animals when they come to their caretaker’s house, not to mention the mouse waiting at a mouse-sized bus stop and a tie-wearing robin, possibly on his way to HIS job.
It’s a sweet book, though perhaps not for those who look down on anthropomorphic animals. No overwhelming morals, other than “Friends take care of friends.” and nothing scary.
1…and what’s the name for the “cold” virii?