100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Exclusive Cover Reveal: AMOS MCGEE MISSES THE BUS by Philip and Erin Stead

Back in 2010, A Sick Day for Amos McGee was published. It was Philip Stead’s second picture book and Erin Stead’s first. It went on to win the 2011 Caldecott Medal.

After a considerable hiatus, Amos makes his return this fall. Today I’m honored to share the cover of Amos McGee Misses the Bus.

But first, I wanted to talk with Erin and Phil about how the book came to be.

TRAVIS: What’s the process for deciding to revisit Amos? I’m guessing your publisher encouraged it, especially after the Caldecott win, but how did that line up with your feelings on it? 

PHIL: It was definitely suggested to us (albeit gently) that we might do more Amos stories. But we were dead set against it at the time. Sick Day was our first book together and we were worried about being pigeon-holed early as the Amos team. There were a lot of other stories we wanted to tell. After ten years I think we’ve realized that being pigeon-holed as the Amos team isn’t such a bad thing after all.

As it turned out, even though we didn’t specifically return to Amos, the themes of Sick Day kept popping up in our work, book after book. I remember after the Caldecott we were both very concerned about ruining a good thing. I mean, how many movie sequels are as good as the originals? The Amos world is so tightly contained that it seemed impossible at the time to expand on it without everything coming apart.

It was sometime in 2016 or 2017 that we first started entertaining the idea of revisiting Amos. It was in direct response to the real world which seemed to be getting meaner and more selfish by the minute. Amos felt like just the right antidote. Enough years had passed by then that we were no longer as concerned about ruining the first book. It had taken that much time for us to really understand what Amos meant, both to us and to readers. Still, we knew we would have to be careful—very careful.

ERIN: It was very gently brought up ten years ago and then dropped when we firmly said no. We were never pressured. But, ten years later, I wanted to draw the crew again and live in the book for a while. It was naive. Once I was knee-deep in the art, I was rightly terrified. We have really tried to gently expand the Amos story while still letting the reader feel comforted by the same order and kindness of the first book. Over the years we’ve had a few story ideas for Amos and his friends float around, but I think this one became itchy and persistent because of the last few years of our lives, on both a micro and macro scale. 

TRAVIS: Erin – What was it like illustrating these characters again? What changes did you notice about your illustration process or style?

ERIN: In some ways I’ve gotten better as an artist, and in some ways I’ve gotten worse. There are quirky things in the first book that I had to decide to keep or correct. The other thing that’s changed is that I made the first book with no outside opinions. At the time, Phil and I really felt like we were pretending to have a job. We had a tiny contract and almost no contact with the publisher over the 18 months it took me to make the first one. But now, after 10 years and a lot of travel, I know more about what people think about the book, for better or worse (mostly better, but you always remember the worse).

The 10th Anniversary Edition of A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE

TRAVIS: Phil – Did you have any Amos McGee companion book ideas that were totally off the wall? Amos in Space? You wanted to send Amos to space for a while, didn’t you?

PHIL: Pigs in Space was my favorite Muppet Show sketch when I was a kid.

So, obviously, Amos in Space is a goal of mine. That’s all I’ll say about that for now—I don’t want to ruin any surprises down the road.

ERIN: I have no problem with the idea of Amos in space.

(I actually do have ideas for Amos companion books but the jury’s out on whether or not they are good ideas.)

Travis: Ha! They do seem pretty comfortable in low gravity. Erin – Did you and Phil work together in the same way this time around, or did the collaboration work differently for Amos McGee Misses the Bus?

ERIN: Last time we made Amos we lived in a tiny apartment (actually three different apartments in 18 months) and spent all day together. Amos McGee Misses the Bus first originated right when our daughter was born three years ago. I had a couple of books to complete before I was able to start Amos and it wasn’t that difficult to draw with an infant in a carrier. But as time went on and she got mobile, it was much harder. There was a lot of baby/toddler trading and less immediate collaboration.  

Travis: Phil – How do you approach a sequel/companion book in general? Did you feel compelled to expand Amos’s world? Keep things the same?

PHIL: We’ve always been incredibly protective of the Amos world. This applies both to ideas coming from outside the studio as well as inside. The motto has always been: First, do no harm. Really, Sick Day was defined as much by what wasn’t there as by what was. Backgrounds were almost non-existent. The animals never spoke, except for the one collective thought of: Where is Amos? So even if we wanted to, the world would be tricky to expand. Even just devising a new plot became a year-long project for us. The plot would always get too big and have to be reigned back in. One of us—probably Erin—ended up writing down one day: SIMPLE PROBLEM, SIMPLE SOLUTION. That phrase became the scaffolding for the second book and for any future Amos books too.

ERIN: I have absolutely no recollection of SIMPLE PROBLEM, SIMPLE SOLUTION. But that sounds about right.

TRAVIS: Phil, I recently learned that doughnuts put you in peak creativity mode – what about you Erin? What snack gets the creative juices flowing?

ERIN: I’m pandemic parenting a lonely toddler and mostly working at night on no exercise, so I wouldn’t say this is my healthiest relationship with food right now. At 9 pm, I’ll eat almost anything.

Thank you Erin and Phil for taking my questions! Thank you Mary Van Akin for making this post happen.

And now, for the first time, the cover for Amos McGee Misses the Bus by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, publishing on November 2, 2021 by Roaring Brook Press.

From the publisher:

Hooray! Our friends are back! Join Amos and the gang for a brand new adventure that ends in a very special surprise!

Ten years after the phenomenally succesful, Caldecott Medal-winning classic, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, we get to meet back up with the gang in a brand new, heartwarming story.

Amos McGee, a friendly zookeeper, is very considerate and always on time. But after a late night planning a surprise for all his friends, Amos is tired. So tired that he falls asleep during breakfast and misses his bus to the zoo!

Now he knows he won’t have time for the surprise he planned for his friends. Unless . . . maybe his friends can step in and help him out.

Philip Stead’s gently humorous tale of friendship and kindness satisfies fans of the first book while Erin Stead’s elegant drawings bring a whole new life to a beloved classic.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.