More than a decade ago, Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead introduced a gentle, empathetic zookeeper who is sidelined by a cold in A Sick Day for Amos McGee, the couple’s debut picture book collaboration. The Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Books title received the 2011 Caldecott Medal and spawned a companion title, Amos McGee Misses the Bus, released this month, for which Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group built buzz last month with the Everyday Heroes campaign, commemorating unsung heroes among us.

Amos McGee’s second adventure underscores the compassion and kindness that give the zookeeper and his charges heroic qualities. In the story, Amos stays up so late planning a surprise outing for his animal pals that he falls asleep at the breakfast table and misses his bus to the zoo. As they did in Amos McGee’s inaugural caper, the zoo menagerie rallies to help the caretaker, whose plan goes off despite the hitch.

Kristen Luby, senior marketing manager, school and library, explained that the Everyday Heroes campaign grew out of in-house brainstorming sessions attended by MCPG marketing and publicity team members, including Mary Van Akin, Johanna Allen, Robert Brown, Chantal Gersch, and Leigh Ann Higgins.

“We wanted to find a way to celebrate the message of kindness that’s so central to the Amos McGee books,” Luby said. “The Steads have been such champions of kindness and friendship for over 10 years. We all agreed there was no better way to celebrate acts of kindness than to create an opportunity for readers to give back to those heroes who have made a difference in their lives.”

Putting the Pieces in Place

The Everyday Heroes campaign, which took place October 1–22, was featured across MCPG’s social media accounts and in its dedicated Amos McGee newsletter. Readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers were invited to nominate a hero for a chance to win a grand prize of $500 and a set of the two Amos McGee books. Luby noted that she and her colleagues “were blown away to receive more than 600 entries, and our team read every single one—it was truly such a joy to see the power of kindness in action!”

Luby was impressed by the wide range of community heroes represented by the nominees, who included teachers and librarians working tirelessly to support young people amid school and library closures; charity organizers, among them a nine-year-old who has [organized]VARY? donations of more than 13,000 books for children across the country; individuals who have reached out to the elderly and other vulnerable individuals during the pandemic; and parents, foster parents, and caregivers who have gone above and beyond to be heroes for their families.

“These stories were so inspiring to all of us and reading these entries was a moving reminder of the power each of us has to make a difference in our communities,” Luby said. “Although it was incredibly difficult to select a winner from so many different stories, with help from the Steads, we ultimately selected one grand prize winner and two first prize winners, who also received books.”

Allison Shardell, intervention specialist at Par Excellence Academy in Newark, Ohio, finished first in the contest. She was nominated by the mother of one of her nine-year-old students in the experimental class that the educator created, which focuses on social-emotional learning for autistic and dyslexic children. In her nomination, the grateful parent praised Shardell for “integrating new teaching methods to ensure that her students are not only learning but thriving. Allison is so much more than a teacher. She is also a counselor and a ‘school mom’ to some of the most vulnerable kids in the school, giving them the support that they need to become strong, independent, emotionally intelligent people.”

Amos McGee’s Grateful Creators

Author Philip Stead and illustrator Erin Stead also expressed gratitude—for young and adult readers’ warm embrace of Amos McGee over the years and to the participants in the Everyday Heroes campaign and the community luminaries they nominated.

Despite the success of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, the decision to revisit that character’s world was not made swiftly. “It took us several years to decide to do another book about Amos, since people really loved the first book—and because we loved Amos so much,” Philip recalled. “We wanted to step back and figure out what readers found meaning in, because we were concerned about making mistakes.”

The Steads’ hesitancy about writing a follow-up book abated around 2016, Philip recounted. “When we realized that the real world was feeling a bit meaner and more selfish than we’d like it to be, both of us decided we wanted to spend more time inside the world of Amos McGee. Today, even doing small things makes a big difference, and Amos McGee speaks to that. He is always finding ways to reach out to others, and that is so important right now.”

Fans’ enthusiastic and heartfelt participation in the Everyday Heroes initiative underscores that observation. Noting that she is grateful to have had the chance to read the nominations, Erin said, “It felt like they came right when I needed them. I’ve been lucky to have had a few experiences with Amos McGee that have been very humbling, and this was one of them. With all that’s been happening recently, it often feels like we’re all moving forward as best we can, but our interactions feel rushed or flattened by the internet—Zoom meetings, FaceTime, etc. All of the nominees and the people who took the time to nominate them reminded me that we are still good to one another.”

Luby echoed the Steads’ belief that the return of Amos McGee, and the publisher’s tie-in tribute to community heroes, are propitiously timed. “We hope that just like Amos McGee, our everyday heroes will inspire a ripple effect of kindness,” she said. “Especially during this pandemic, we’ve all felt so moved by the stories of communities coming together to support and uplift each other. There’s no story that deserves to be told more than those of the heroes who walk among us every day!”

Amos McGee Misses the Bus by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook, $18.99 Nov. 23 ISBN 978-1-250-21322-8