The compassionate toad who stole readers’ hearts in A Home for Bird (2012) now appears in a long-form picture book with three chapters.
In “Waiting,” the amphibian sits atop a snail shell, a flower his only companion. An undecorated white background conveys the empty boredom surrounding this activity—a sentiment to which children will relate. Unexpectedly, the snail eventually emerges and carries Vernon into the next story. His forest world, executed in gouache, crayon, pastel, and charcoal, feels familiar. The pages are framed with loose green loops of vegetation and chalky blue strokes of sky. Stead has a gift for expressing the emotions and dialogue that accompany the uncertainties of childhood—those anxious, wanting-to-be-right-but-not-quite-knowing-the-rules moments. In “Fishing,” Skunk and Porcupine join their friend, and although Porcupine feels inadequate because he doesn’t know how to fish, in reality none of them do. At the climax, lit by a sunset, the trio invents their own version of the sport; listeners feel a combination of in-the-know pride—and relief. “Gardening” finds Vernon missing Bird: “But sometimes…my memories are not so easy to remember.” Working, resting, seeking out things Bird loved, and thoughtful friends are factors in his renewal.
Cleverly bringing the narrative full circle, Stead has crafted a caring community where sadness is mitigated by quiet kindnesses and an unhurried joy in nature—a fruitful model. (Picture book. 4-7)