Philip and Erin Stead, whose debut picture book collaboration is about an under-the-weather zookeeper and his thoughtful associates, are hard at work on a sequel, a decade after the publication of A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook/Porter), which won the 2011 Caldecott Medal.
Amos McGee Misses the Bus (Roaring Brook, 2021) will be illustrated with Erin’s trademark woodblock prints, colored in pencil. The couple co-authored the text. The idea for a sequel came five years ago while the couple was standing in line at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
“We had just gotten back from touring and talking about the book—including in China—and we had been hashing out how much our lives had changed because of Amos,” Erin said. “We realized we probably had other stories to tell about him. And the world is such a stressful place right now. Perhaps a little selfishly, we just felt the need to spend time with our friend Amos again.”
That was five years ago. In the intervening half-decade, the couple had their first child, a daughter, now three. (While her parents took turns being interviewed for this story, their daughter was using their water-soluble crayons to create her own masterpieces. (“They are her favorite,” Erin said.) Having a child around has altered their lives in other ways, too. “Neither of us is willing to spend less time with her, so working together—editing and design—has become more of a formal arrangement that we have to schedule,” Philip said. “Coming up with ideas is less formal. We spend a lot of time talking on dog walks or during meals. A lot of work gets done in the evenings.”
Though the Steads are keeping specific plot details about the sequel under Amos’s peacock-feather-printed comforter, Erin shared that Amos’s failure to make the bus has more to do with being unable to get to sleep on time than with alarm clock malfunction. There is no need to suggest that he set an alert on his cellphone to awaken. “He’s still good with winding up his pocket watch,” she said.
Though he has (so far) only appeared in one book, Amos’s world feels very established to the Steads, Philip said. “The rules are very clear to us on how it works, which complicates things because even a single word out of place can seem very jarring.” He cited a sentence from the first book, describing Amos’s morning routine, as an example: “Belly full and ready for the workday, he’d amble out the door.”
“Originally, we had him ‘dotter’ out the door but a dottering old man is very different from an ambling old man,” Philip said. “We didn’t want anything that would suggest he was decrepit, so the verb choice for how he moved was very specific. There are a thousand little choices like that.”
Publication is scheduled for fall 2021, which has both Steads in a slight panic. Philip says the text is still evolving. Erin said her illustration style “was a slow process before we had a child and it’s even slower now. It’s not like I can leave [wood]carving knives everywhere around the house.”
The new book will be edited by Roaring Brook editor Emily Feinberg, who worked with the Steads for a decade, first as an assistant to Neal Porter, who now has an imprint at Holiday House.
Macmillan published a 10th anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee last November, and will distribute signed prints from the book at ALA Midwinter to commemorate its first decade in print. The Steads will be at home in Michigan, putting the finishing touches on its follow-up and keeping the reason for Amos’s transportation trouble securely under wrap. “You’ll just have to wait till it’s finished to find out,” Philip said.