Vladimir is one of those never-never little boys who lives with a great-great aunt in an old, old house and this is one of those childish sophisticated stories that talk about what ""little boys like Vladimir like"" in one breath and, in the next, the ""sapphire that Great-great-aunt Alice gave me for Bastille Day."" He has, in fact, one of almost every stone in the world--precious and semi- and pit stones and headstones--""a roadstone and a lodestone. . . . But he didn't have a toadstone."" So, undeterred by the reminder that it's inside the toad's head and ""the rarest jewel in the world,"" Vladimir sets out in quest--after all, it's also ""the most beautiful."" En route he bandies words with a shifty lizard and an overbearing starling, finally finds the toadstone only to realize that he must take the ugly toad too, takes the toad home only to learn that toads don't like to be penned up. You might say that the toadstone has become a mill-stone--not, perhaps, for Vladimir, who gets the rare beauty/rarely seen message--but for the reader who's followed him on the long rocky path.