Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Powerful Thing...

I have found over the years the very best things, pure excellence, are more than worth the wait.  When I read the post on Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, titled Philip C. Stead Visits 7-Imp to Share Where a Story Comes From...Or:  How a Toad Named Vernon Ended Up Sailing a Teacup into the Great Unknown, I truly wondered, if just this once, time might fly.  The thirty-three days did pass quickly. What a joy it is to hold my own copy of A Home for Bird (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, June 5, 2012) written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead.

I usually speak about the storyline followed by focusing on the illustrations (which I will still do) but in this title I have to say, the visuals speak volumes, the text is art.  Prior to the first written line readers see an old rattlebang truck, bumping down the road, loaded up with someone's worldly possessions.  A "arm" extends from a cuckoo clock shooting the bird in an arc from the truck's bed.

Vernon was out foraging for interesting things when he found Bird.

Vernon is an inquisitive toad with a huge heart.  In his toady mind the ever silent Bird might be in need of a friend.  Vernon invites him to be a part of his life introducing him to his friends Skunk and Porcupine and sharing with him all the wonders of his world.

Bird's persistent lack of speech is a puzzle to Vernon and his two chums.  Thinking he might be missing his home, the adventurous amphibian, using his gathered treasures, sets sail with Bird down the river.  Along the way a variety of possible homes, birdcage, birdhouse, mailbox, bird's nest, are shown to Bird who never utters a single word in response.

Saddened but nevertheless faithful to his task, Vernon, while sitting with Bird on a telephone wire with other winged companions sees a red balloon whose string is tangled.  From boat to basket a teacup takes the duo further along their journey.  Chatting with a rooster weathervane Vernon notices him pointing a response to his comments.

Gazing into the distance Vernon can see a little, happy-looking home with a rattlebang truck tooting and honking away down the road.  Making their way to the window sill Vernon spies a potential place for his pal.  Will this door break open Bird's silence?  In the brightness of a new day, Vernon receives his answer.

Philip C. Stead's careful, singular word selection not only tells the tale but evokes in readers a strong emotional attachment to Vernon's quality of character, his compassion, his unconditional love for his new friend. 

"I hope this is a good idea, " said Vernon.
Bird said nothing.
"Bird is very brave," thought Vernon.

His narrative guides us from place to place as a home is sought for Bird but this tale is also building the structure of true friendship.

Stead states the illustrations in this title were not created in his usual medium of collage.  He began each with an under-drawing in water-soluble crayon then painted over with gouache resulting in a specific and unique texture filled with an airy luminosity.  Colorful hues continue that lightness, a sense of hope and happiness. 

I love the little extra details in his visuals; the three-leaf clover stems stuck in the tin can but the one Vernon is holding is a four-leaf clover, the sail fabric is the same as the curtains in the blue board house and the cuckoo clock is a mirror image of the home.  Picturing Vernon using items at hand to create his sail boat, a curved straw, teacup, a slip of fabric and a spoon for an oar, further reveals the toad's will to succeed, to make do with what's at hand.  The subtle hints at humor, the name on the truck's door, Careful Moving Co.,  are the finishing touch.

A Home for Bird written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is one of those books you want to put under your pillow at night knowing all your dreams will be sweet or carry around with you like a treasured stuffed toy or favorite blankie; not wanting to be parted.  Vernon is the kind of best friend everyone should have once in their life, a selfless champion.  Any of the illustrations would find a welcome place on my walls as framed marvels.  I absolutely love this joyous, wonderful book.  I am adding it to my Mock Caldecott list for 2013.

Here is a link to the Macmillan site for more illustrations in addition to those in the interview linked above.  Please read the interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast;  offering insight into the creative process for this book.  By following the link to Philip C. Stead's site you can download the music he wrote for this book trailer.

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