Sometimes a children’s book is so heart-warming it needs no greater purpose for reading than just to enjoy it. And sometimes you get lucky and a book is not only sweet, but perfect for that lesson you want to teach about characters! A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead, is one such book.
Each day Amos McGee goes to his job at the zoo. While there, Amos the zookeeper faithfully races the tortoise, reads to the owl, and even keeps a shy penguin company. Then one day, Amos gets sick and can’t make it to the zoo. In the end, the kindness Amos has shown each day is repaid to him by his animal friends who decide to pay him a visit.
This book is perfect for lessons on character analysis. Through his daily actions, Amos demonstrates his kindness and selflessness. The author himself does not describe Amos; rather, students are forced to pull evidence from the text in order to prove their thinking. Erin Stead’s Caldecott-winning illustrations only serve to support this thinking. Through soft, detailed depictions of Amos and his animal friends, students are able to see — and almost feel — Amos’s actions, allowing for one more kernel of textual evidence that can be used to understand what kind of person Amos McGee is.
Additionally, students are given the opportunity to explore character motivation and relationships between characters. Why does Amos do these things each day? Why do the animals come to visit him? How must they feel about each other?
As an added perk Amos McGee has not only become one of the most beloved characters in my class, but also a positive role model for students. Once during recess I overheard one child say to another, “Are you acting like Amos?” when a group was deciding who to play with.
This simple story of friendship has provided not only so many entrance points for classroom discussions on comprehension skills surrounding character, but also, opportunities to talk with students about their relationships and our own classroom culture. In the end though, this story is one that regardless of the lesson, I still love to pick up and just read for the simple pleasure of reading…and my students do too!
Editor’s note: for more about the Steads and their books, check out our interview with Erin Stead and Philip’s profile of Erin in our July/August 2011 Horn Book Magazine.