Picture book review: A Home for Bird

Philip Stead, author & illustrator. (2012). A Home for Bird. New York, New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Can Vernon the frog help the silent Bird find its way home? Follow Vernon as he helps his lost friend.



A Home for Bird was published in April 2012, and is still in print. The book’s list price is $16.99 in the US, and $18.99 in Canada. Amazon has the price at $11.55 for brand new copies. The cover price of $16.99 to $18.99 is rather prohibitive for many books, especially children’s books. Amazon’s price is more reasonable, but then one would need to pay for shipping and wait for the book to arrive in the mail. The cheapest and easiest way to access the book is to go to the library. (Could I be biased in this regard?  Yes, likely.) Philip Stead won the 2011 Caldecott medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, as such his work is likely to be included in children’s library collections.

The intended audience for A Home for Bird is children ages 3 and up. It is a good fit for pre-readers, but would not necessarily be too babyish for a child in the early stages of reading. The art provides a lush treat for a preliterate child to contemplate while being read to by an adult. A child in the early stages of reading might find the book inviting because of the relatively simple text and eye-catching illustrations. The book lends itself to being read slowly by a child.

Reviews of A Home for Bird are overwhelmingly positive, and I couldn’t agree more. Stead receives consistent praise for his art, narrative, and characters. Ann Kelley of Booklist calls the book, “an ode to friendship, selflessness, and the joys of home. Everyone should be so lucky to know a Vernon” (2012). Kirkus Reviews comments on Stead’s art, “Stead’s sensitive telling and white background create space for contemplation” (2012).

As the text starts, we meet Vernon the frog as he is foraging for interesting things. Vernon stumbles upon Bird and introduces himself. Bird says nothing. Vernon brings Bird home with him, and introduces Bird to his friends. Bird says nothing. Vernon takes still silent Bird sight-seeing. Eventually, Vernon becomes concerned that Bird is lost and home sick. Vernon takes Bird to a variety of settings where he thinks bird might be at home. Bird still says nothing. Vernon rigs a tea-cup to a balloon and the two fly away to a remote house. Vernon and Bird stop inside the house and take shelter in the cuckoo clock decoration on the wall. The next morning Bird bursts out of the clock saying, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Vernon is finally happy now that his friend is happy.

Vernon is an outgoing frog who befriends an inanimate object who he believes is silent because he seems shy and scared. Vernon’s friends do not realize that Bird is an object either, and also share his concern for Bird’s well-being. This creates a situation where the reader knows more than the characters and allows the child to be privy to the humor of the situation. For some children, it may echo and validate the emotional attachment that they have to a stuffed animal or doll.

The illustrations are a powerful part of A Home for Bird. The art is colorful with skillful use of white space in the composition. Stead uses mixed media with A Home for Bird. He opts for gouache and water-soluble crayons instead of collage as in his previous books. Most of the animals and all of the settings are created with unfinished, slightly crooked lines.  The pictures appear chaotic and inexpert like the sort a child might draw. However, the total effect is quite charming and soothing while creating a sense of adventure and movement that matches the textual narrative.

Take a look for yourself:

 

Only Vernon and Bird are consistently drawn with more finished designs, perhaps as a hint to the child about what to focus on. Vernon’s face and body are carefully drawn to show his friendliness, concern, and loyalty.  Bird is, of course, silent and unmoving.

The art also adds its own details to the narrative. The very first page shows a “Careful Moving Co.” rusty looking truck piled haphazardly with someone’s household goods. The bird from the cuckoo clock goes sailing out of the truck and into the copyright information with a long, “Cuckoooooooo…” The interesting things that Vernon has collected on the next page include a bottle cap, yo-yo, drinking straw, spoon, and handkerchief. Later, we see Bird and Vernon with a bottle cap hat sailing a boat he made out of a tea-cup with the handkerchief tied to the straw as his sail and spoon as his oar. We know the remote house is the place where Bird belongs because we see the same “Careful Moving Co.” truck driving away.

Librarians, teachers, and parents can use this book with a wide audience. Who hasn’t ever felt lost and powerless in a new situation, especially as a child? A Home for Bird is a good choice for children who have moved to a brand new place away from friends and trusted neighbors. The story has a theme of transience and feeling lost somewhere far from home. These kids can see that Bird meets friendly new people who want to make him feel welcome. Vernon also provides comfort to a child reader because he moves far away, yet feels comfortable in Bird’s home.

I think a child would like A Home for Bird even if he or she has not experienced relocation. The story is simple, compelling, and filled with small details provided through the art. The ending is a surprise twist if the reader didn’t notice Bird flying out of the moving truck on the very first page and provides a payoff if they followed the clues in the text and art.

I like this book because the story was entertaining and sweet with eye-catching illustrations. Everything about the book speaks of sincerity and optimism. Vernon and the other characters show personality traits that should be encouraged in all people, not just children. They displayed care and concern for the lost stranger. Vernon does his best to show Bird hospitality, but eventually spends time and effort to return him home. I was smiling too by the last page when Bird jumps out of his old cuckoo clock home and Vernon looks as happy as ever with his arms raised in victory. Indeed, everyone should be lucky enough to know a Vernon.

Related Links:

Click here to visit Phililp Stead’s website.

Interview with Stead about the origins of this book.

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