A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip and Erin Stead, is no longer a new book, but you know that old is good…right? (Roaring Brook Press 2009.) I’m pretty certain this beautiful blockbuster, a Positive Aging picture book for ages 2-6, is going to be around for a while.
With a nod to David Letterman who made the top 10 list famous, retiring after twenty years on The Late Show, here are my–
Top 10 Reasons to read A Sick Day for Amos McGee:
- Amos is old and not their grandpa, yet the animals find him worthy of friendship.
- Amos is shown as working, busy, punctual and responsible—as a zookeeper.
- He is old, but not forgetful.
- Amos lives alone, but he is not represented as pitiful or grumpy.
- He is thin, balding, slope shouldered and wrinkled, with a receding chin…but again—he’s shown as worthy of true friendship based on mutual respect.
- Several of his animal friends are also gently wrinkled—the elephant, the rhino, and the tortoise—and the penguin sports a suit like Amos.
- Amos crawls into bed only briefly, with a cold and fever, and rather than going into a decline he feels much better by the end of the book.
- Yes, his animal friends help him out, but they are returning the favor for his excellent care and consideration.
- Sweet details will captivate kids—Amos sleeps with a teddy bear, wears bunny slippers at home, wipes the rhino’s nose, and plays hide-and-seek tucking his head under the covers.
- The zoo has a tall stack of storybooks and Amos, in his specs, reads to the owl who (whooo?) is afraid of the dark…
I hung on every word when the author and illustrator presented locally last year—Philip and Erin Stead are married and spend much of the year in Ann Arbor. This book, their very first, won the Caldecott Medal and the main character is an old man! Erin Stead’s award winning and intriguing illustrations use color created with woodblock prints followed by drawing on top.
Erin elaborated on the characters–en route to visit Amos home in bed, all the animals on the bus are serious and quiet, “except for the tortoise—he’s jacked,” she said, “I think it’s because he’s the oldest. He’s been around the block.” Thank you Erin.
Nipping Ageism in the Bud
Many parents and grandparents believe that what kids learn about older adults will be solely shaped by them as role models. If the kids love and admire me NOW….we’re fine.
But most of us will concede that the sexist and racist attitudes of others may influence our children. Research tells us they are being heavily influenced by other people, the media (even ads and cartoons), and—books for kids.
Negative beliefs about growing old infect individuals for a lifetime. They creep into kids’ brains like a slow growing fungus—affecting how they treat older people, even loved ones, and–their own behavior as they age.
Researcher Sheree Kwong See has found negative attitudes towards older people in children as young as two and three years old. Kwong See, of the University of Alberta, says:
“Right from the very beginning, we need to show realistic images of older people. If we want people to rely less on stereotypes, we need to show them the exceptions; we need to show them the heterogeneity in aging.”
Children who spend more time with older people show a greater understanding of their capabilities and fewer ageist attitudes. But, we do need to talk with kids. How will you counter your child or grandchild lugging home a book heavy with negative age stereotypes? Fusty, dusty, grumpy, frumpy…
Or, what would you say upon hearing the kindergarten class celebrated 100 days of school with a “centenarian dress-up day?” Let’s pretend we’re 100 years old—complete with bathrobes, canes, walkers, and powdered gray hair? True story. (The friend who found it declared, “I am absolutely NOT wearing curlers in public when I’m 100.”)
We can do better than that. How about celebrating centenarians with a tall stack of 100 books representing the multitude of chapters in such a long and interesting life?
Growing older as—getting grumpy? Forever forgetful? Simply sick?
Or growing older equals vital, happy, helpful, and interesting? I’m not counting on the media to tell my grandchildren what to believe about me as I age.
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Images courtesy of illustrator Erin Stead. I reviewed my own copy of this book. I was not paid nor required to review this book.