I discovered Amos & Boris by accident while I was browsing through the picture book section of Barnes & Noble. I originally intended to purchase another Mo Willems book (because I just love the man’s works!). However, when I chanced upon William Steig’s Amos & Boris, I decided to give it a go since I haven’t seen it yet.
When I held the book in my hand, I thought that the name William Steig sounded familiar. Then I realized I have his book, The One and Only Shrek (which I have yet to read! Yikes!). Amos & Boris was first published in 1971. It was a National Book Award Finalist and A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, among other awards.
Speaking of which, have you signed up for our Award-Winning Books Reading Challenge yet? If not, please do so! This is a year-long book review challenge, and we are halfway through (+1 hehe). We would be thrilled to read your works! One lucky winner is chosen each month and is entitled to a book prize. How awesome is that? Once again, please sign up to our AWB Reading Challenge. Don’t miss out on the fun!
A Familiar Story, Magnified. When I read the book, I was reminded of the classic story of The Lion and the Mouse. (Click here to read Myra’s review of Jerry Pinkney’s wordless yet artistic retelling of the famous Aesop tale.) The book centers on the unlikely friendship between a mouse named Amos and a whale named Boris.
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 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.
I bet you can guess who came to Amos’s rescue? You got it!
…a huge head burst through the surface of the water and loomed up over him. It was a whale. “What sort of fish are you?” the whale asked. “You must be one of a kind!”
“I’m not a fish,” said Amos. “I’m a mouse, which is a mammal, the highest form of life. I live on land.”
“Holy clam and cuttlefish!” said the whale. “I’m a mammal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,” he added.
It would be needless to tell you what happened next. Suffice it to say that the two became very dear friends and helped each other out in times of need.
Picture Book with A Tinge of Grown-Up Stuff. Amos & Boris is an endearing read about two creatures with hearts bigger than themselves. I’ve read the book about three times, and I still think that it has that adult tone in its narrative. The language used was simple, but the structure itself was more than your average picture book. Longer-than-usual narratives in each page are complemented with beautiful illustrations that have a classic feel to it.
I particularly enjoyed its slight touch on long-distance friendships, and its honest take on things that are not meant to be physically together. Allow me to quote freely,
“The time came to say goodbye. They were at the shore. “I wish we could be friends forever,” said Boris. “We will be friends forever, but we can’t be together. You must live on land and I must live at sea. I’ll never forget you though.”
I’ve been living in California for almost five (5) years now, and to say that I miss my friends back home is an understatement. I barely even keep in touch with most of them. I do know that they would always be there for me when I need them. Help comes in different forms, and I know in my heart that they’re always willing to lend a hand.
Lesson Plans and Teaching Resources. Most of the links in my search list were either noted with error or would not show the actual lesson plan or teaching guide. But I think that children can learn a lot from Amos & Boris and that teachers can utilize this book in so many ways. Allow me to share these wonderful teaching ideas I found in Cynthia Ragan’s Book Reviews. Unfortunately, the original link which she shared in her page said that the book was not available. In any case, many thanks to Sue Ornstein (June 2000) for coming up with the original lesson plan ideas!
Begin a discussion about the characteristics of mammals (e.g., mammals nurse their young, mammals are warm-blooded, mammals have hair). Ask students to compare and contrast the characteristics of Amos and Boris, and to determine if they are mammals. Then have students choose a mammal or an ocean animal to research. If students have access to the Internet, Web sites such as the Monterey Bay Aquariums E-Quarium (www.mbayaq.org) and the Birmingham Zoo (www.birminghamzoo.com) will offer them information on a wide range of animal species. Students should produce a written report about their animal and share their research with the class to teach them about a variety of animals.
Amos and Boris missed each other while they were apart. Discuss methods of staying in touch with a special person who is far away (e.g., phone calls, e-mail, letter-writing). Review the format of a friendly letter, and ask students to compose a letter and send it to a special person. Students may enjoy sharing the response to their letters with the class.
Review what Amos brings with him on his ocean journey. Then discuss the specific items necessary for a variety of excursions. What do you need if you are going hiking? What if you are going fishing? What if you are going on safari in Africa? In small groups, have students choose a destination and create a list of appropriate items for their journey. Each groups list should be presented to, and critiqued by, the rest of the class.
Read to the class a version of Aesops The Lion and the Mouse. Ask them to compare and contrast this book and the fable. To demonstrate graphically how the two stories overlap, record their similarities and differences on a Venn diagram.
About the Author
(As found on the back cover)
William Steig was both a highly respected and entertaining cartoonist and an award-winning, bestselling author of children’s picture books and novels. He won the Caldecott Honor for The Amazing Bone and the Newbery Honor for Doctor De Soto (both available in the collection The One and Only Shrek!). In the story of Amos and Boris, William Steig’s family believes that Amos is realizing William’s lifelong dream of going to sea.