Tag Archives: erin e stead

Day 162 – if you want to see a whale

When you think about heading out to the beach, perhaps you imagine building a sand castle, splashing in the waves, or tossing a Frisbee on the sea breeze. These pursuits all seem fairly straightforward, and I’m not sure you need any special instructions for any of them. However, if you plan to set your sights a little higher, and what you really want to do at the beach is to see a whale…well, we may have found just the book for you! “if you want to see a whale” by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Erin E. Stead is a whimsical and poetic how-to guide with just the right amount of silly to make it a thoroughly entertaining read aloud experience.

whaleThe book begins with the bare essentials required for whale spotting: a window…and an ocean…and time for wondering…AND time for realizing. You will need a not-so-comfy-chair and a not-too-cozy-blanket, because you can’t watch for whales when you are sleeping (me: good point!). While watching you must make sure NOT to notice certain other things that might be intriguing: the color pink, sweet roses, possible pirates on the horizon, perching pelicans, small inching things…and clouds. You must watch the sea and wait…wait…wait…
Eventually, after much waiting, payoff (in this book, at least)! A whale does appear, and we are left to playfully imagine all the many adventures a child and his dog will have (conversing? exploring? sitting quietly?) with their new-found whale…but this is not a book about what to do with whales – it is strictly a book about what to do if you want to see one.

We love the poetic prose, the childlike observations, and the humorous illustrations of a child and his dog waiting patiently and forgoing all other distractions in pursuit of their singular goal. We also got a kick out of the idea of a child sitting and waiting for something fun to happen…it’s a theme that we saw previously in another Fogliano-Stead collaboration: “and then its spring”…and we enjoyed it just as much here as we did there. As with the prior book, patience is eventually rewarded – but, goodness, that waiting is hard work!

Day 90 – A Sick Day for Angus McGee

“A Sick Day for Angus McGee” by the husband-and-wife team of Phillip C. Stead (author) and Erin E. Stead (illustrator) is a true treasure. The story is sweet, funny and comforting, and the charming pencil and woodblock illustrations, which won the Caldecott Medal for 2011, make me grin every time I look at them.

AmosAmos McGee is a sweet old man living in a tiny wood-panel house nestled in between taller downtown apartment buildings. Every morning he wakes early, packs a lunch, and rides the bus to work at the zoo, where he spends the day with his animal friends. He plays chess with the elephant (who thinks carefully about each move), races the tortoise (who always wins), sits quietly with the penguin (who is very shy), lends a handkerchief to the rhino (who always has a runny nose), and at sunset he reads to the owl (who is afraid of the dark). One day, however, Amos wakes up with a bad cold and can’t go to work. His animal friends miss him and make the trip to his house by bus to spend the day catering to Amos’ needs as he always caters to theirs.

I just adore this book. The idea of spending your days in such a simple but fulfilling way is so compelling – it’s a little escape just to read the story. I also love the way in which Amos is so considerate of each friend’s unique needs, and how his thoughtfulness and selflessness are repaid in kind. Then there are the illustrations, which augment the humor and heart of the story with their little details. Amos himself has such a friendly face, and his clothes and accommodations lend to the comforting old-fashioned feel of the book. The expressions and posture of the animals give insight to their personalities: the look of satisfaction on the face of the tortoise as he wins his race with Amos for the nth time, the crossed feet and sideways glance of the shy penguin, or the elephant’s contemplative pose as he carefully arranges chess pieces in a row while waiting on his friend. In fact, my favorite part of the book was actually wordless, as we saw the animals walking to the bus, waiting on the bus, and riding the bus to Amos’ apartment…I could almost hear the “intermission” muzak playing in my head as I flipped from one page to the next, waiting along with the animals for their story to “start up” again when they reach Amos.

I think we will need to track down some more of Ms. Stead’s books. We thoroughly enjoyed her work on “and then it’s spring” as well. Our oldest actually liked the illustrations in that book even better than those in Amos McGee, but I think that’s splitting hairs. Oh, and one more thing: we couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that Amos’ friends come in a group of five (a key foundational math concept for little ones), and that the grouping is underscored by the number “5” on the side of the bus as the friends all ride to see Amos. We have confessed to our dorkiness previously – as you will see here.