This post was written by Lindsay Harker of Filly + Foal. Filly + Foal is a line of handpicked vintage clothing and books for children aged 0 – 12, available online, at Penny Arcade Vintage and Leslieville Arts Market in Toronto, Ontario. Filly + Foal also custom make “Madge Badges” inspired by a little lady named Madeline.
On the nights when my daughter lets me choose a book, I so often reach for Amos & Boris, William Steig’s beautiful, watercoloured tale of an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a whale. The two friends only meet twice, under dire circumstances, and although they have little in common on the surface they are able to grow to appreciate each other’s unique talents, and to eventually help one another in profound ways.
I love the way that Steig describes the “deep admiration” that the two titular characters develop 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”. Steig’s prose is quiet and elegant, alternately humourous and poignant, and deeply respectful of his young readers.
I’m aware that I probably see this story through a different lens than my daughter, who generally tends to reach for something more gendered, and brightly coloured. She likes the book, although there is one page that she sometimes asks me to skip, because the whale’s eye “looks creepy”. Creepy eyes aside, I want to read books with her that are aware of the complexities of a child’s understanding. Books that trust their readers to tackle challenging concepts and words like “grandeur”, and “phosphorescent”. In Amos & Boris, Steig created characters that are kind, intelligent, flawed, and utterly, if anthropomorphically, human. I think, or at least I hope, that these are the kind of stories that will stay with my daughter when she has long outgrown reading with me.