Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Paperback: 28 pages
Publisher: Square Fish (September 15, 2009)
I actually wanted to name our son Boris—but, sadly, my partner did not share my enthusiasm. “Bwo-ris,” I said emphatically, with my grandmother’s Russian accent. “No?” No. Nonetheless, the book, a favorite from my own childhood, became and has remained a favorite in our household as well. If you know Sylvester and the Magic Pebble or The Amazing Bone, then you’re already familiar with William Steig’s delightfully watery illustrations and refreshingly literate text. This book is no exception, and it is a joy in every way. Amos, a seaside mouse filled with an explorer’s curiosity, builds a boat, loads it with provisions (this catalogue of goods—including biscuits, acorns, honey, and a yo-yo—is the children’s favorite part) and sails away. All goes swimmingly, until:
One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales spouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of his boat, gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse Amos, a little speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly akin to it all. Overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything, he rolled over and over and right off the deck of his boat and into the sea.
Holy clam and cuttlefish! But just as Amos is wondering what it would feel like to drown (I have always loved the existential candor of this part, though other parents may want to edit) along comes Boris the whale. What follows is a touchingly profound story about unlikely friendship and lifelong loyalty, with an excellent powerful-things-come-in-small-packages message to boot: while Amos cannot reciprocate in strength, he has the intelligence to help Boris in turn, when the big, big-hearted whale needs it most.
Add this book to your collection: Amos and Boris, by William Steig
This review originally appeared in our article Five Family Favorites with Catherine Newman, published on April 8, 2012. Catherine Newman, mother of Ben, 12, and Birdy, 9, is the author of the award-winning memoir, Waiting for Birdy (Penguin) and a regular contributor to lots of magazines, including FamilyFun, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Whole Living, and the nonprofit family cooking magazine ChopChop, which she edits. She lives in Western Massachusetts and practically camps out at her local library.