Appearing again in the ""Stepping Stone"" series, Cameron's lively black family rivals Cleary's Quimbys in their warmth and lively good humor. Julian begins with concise, perceptive characterizations of his parents (""My dad . . .likes to play jokes. . .Sometimes he even surprises himself'; ""My mom. . .always takes the time to hear the real answer""), then tells how he tries to find out what Dad wants for his birthday. Finally, Julian interviews him in his sleep--and garners the unsettling information that Dad would like snakes. Just slightly daunted, and with the help of friend Gloria, Julian complies--only to discover that he's overheard part of Dad's worst nightmare. Still, Dad rises to the occasion: he thanks Julian and courageously decides that the makes provide a chance to overcome his long-term fear. The circumstances here may be a bit unlikely, but the story is told with such affection and insight into the vulnerability that everyone shares--but that is most assiduously concealed by the adult male--that the improbability is easy to forgive. Strugnell's cheery soft-pencil drawings contribute nicely to the approachable format.