William Steig is in my top ten list of children’s book authors. He is most famous for his picture book Doctor De Soto as well as the character Shrek, but Amos and Boris is my favorite of his picture books. [We previously discussed Brave Irene, another favorite.] Though his picture books are wonderful, he really shines in chapter-book form. I hope to share notes from Dominic, my favorite children’s chapter book, later this month. [We previously discussed The Real Thief, as well.]
Kids (and parents!) may be interested to know that William Steig did not begin writing children’s books until the age of 61. He then went on to write more than 30!
In this book, Amos and Boris (a mouse and a whale, respectively) ask some deep questions about the nature of life and death and friendship (Steig doesn’t hold much back). They may not have anything in common other than mammal-hood, but they develop a heart-warming relationship.
All of William Steig’s books are a blast to read aloud due to the high quality vocabulary.
“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.”
“Swimming along, sometimes at great speed, sometimes slowly and leisurely, sometimes resting and exchanging ideas, sometimes stopping to sleep, it took them a week to reach Amos’s home shore. During that time, they developed a deep admiration for one another. Boris admired the delicacy, the quivering daintiness, the light touch, the small voice, the gemlike radiance of the mouse. Amos admired the bulk, the grandeur, the power, the purpose, the rich voice, and the abounding friendliness of the whale. They became the closest possible friends. They told each other about their lives, their ambitions.”
Students should be able to spot various literary devices.
He loved to hear the surf sounds—the bursting breakers, the backwashes with rolling pebbles.
Said the mountain of a whale to the mote of a mouse.
Boris was already in the water, with waves washing at him, and he was feeling the wonderful wetness.
On waves as big as mountains.
Crime Scene [Setting]
The beach and the ocean
Amos sails on the sixth of September
A week to return to his home shore with Boris
Amos and Boris are very young when the story begins and old when the meet again, many years later.
(A timeless setting)
Amos—an enterprising, capable, cheerful young mouse who loves life and adventure
Boris—a kind, strong, enormous whale
Students could also compare Amos and Boris to the well-known fable of The Lion and the Mouse or to this animated short film, The Girl and the Fox.