Written and Illustrated by Philip Stead
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press
Should you ever lose a beloved toy or dear possession, you can only hope that it receives a level of tender care that approximates the devotion Vernon the toad demonstrates in Phillip Stead’s A Home for Bird. This book is at once intimate and grand, a story about the power of home and the quest to get there. It begins with an illustration depicting a truck from the Careful Moving Company spilling items out of the back of its bed and visual clues as well. In the aftermath, Vernon, while “foraging for interesting things,” discovers and befriends Bird, a bright blue bird with blue button eyes. Visual foreshadowing allows readers to piece together Bird’s story before Vernon does. Through a careful punctuation of white space and colorful crayon and gouache illustrations, Stead builds his story. Vernon, ever the devoted friend, shares his day-to-day joys with Bird, and ultimately, ventures forth on a quest to bring Bird home. Familiar objects from the initial illustration return, and the closer Bird gets to home, the more color-filled two-page spreads, culminating in a final page with no white space at all, the words placed atop yellow floral wallpaper. In their travels, Vernon and Bird could face danger and trouble, but they don’t, and the comfort of this narrative is echoed by soft illustrations filled with squiggly lines and primary colors. In Vernon’s circle of warmth, friendship and help are offered without expecting anything in return beyond the happiness achieved in the act. A Home for Bird is also an homage to previous works for children. Vernon and Bird take off in a tea cup boat, with a spoon as oar, perhaps a nod to the runcible spoon in Edward Lear’s poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and next take to the sky, their tea cup tied to a red balloon, a nod to both Goodnight Moon and Stead’s earlier work, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Readers of all ages will want to find a Vernon of their own.
- Collections/Foraging. Vernon discovers Bird when he is out “foraging for interesting things.” What do your students find interesting? How do they forage in today’s modern world? What do they collect? Do they buy only new things at stores? Forage around the laundry room or hallways of their apartment building? Do they visit thrift stores or antique shops? Do they become tag sale warriors on the weekend with their parents, grandparents, or guardians? Do they walk around their neighborhood, searching for treasure? Have students discuss collecting with one another, and then create your own foraging adventure within or outside of your school building. Have the students take the objects that they find, perhaps a combination of natural and people-made objects, turn them into original art, and create a display for your school community.
- Visual Foreshadowing. Clues to Bird’s identity are revealed before the text of the story begins. After reading through the story once, have students pour over the illustration opposite the Library of Congress page (Note: this entry relied on an uncorrected Advance Reader Edition, so pagination might be slightly different). What is in the Careful Moving Company truck? Where do those objects appear throughout the book? Keep track on chart paper, and have students discuss why author-illustrators might provide visual clues in a story. What do your students think foreshadowing means?
- Inference. Bird is silent throughout the book. Why doesn’t he talk? You might want to ask your students this question at different times while reading the story out loud. Some might know right away (particularly those who pay close attention to the illustration opposite the Library of Congress page, referred to in the above invitation), and for others, it might take time to infer, given the fact that other animals in the story are anthropomorphized. Therefore, you might want students to write down their answers, rather than share a loud. What are the clues?
- Friendship. Why does Vernon take care of Bird? Why is he such a good friend to a veritable stranger? What does Vernon “get” out of his friendship with Bird? Why is Vernon willing to leave home in order to find Bird’s? Have your students discuss the friendship between Vernon and Bird and compare it to their own friendships. Take the exploration a step further by exploring friendships in two popular beginner reader series: Frog and Toad’s, and Elephant and Piggie’s (see Further Explorations below). Compare and contrast how these characters reveal their dedication to (and, at times, frustration with) one another, and compare that to the friendship between Vernon and Bird. Or, compare Vernon and Bird to Amos and Boris, made famous by William Steig, who was an influence on Philip Stead.
- Other Versions of Vernon. In Philip Stead’s multimodal essay on creating A Home for Bird (see Further Explorations below), he shares digital images of earlier sketches of Vernon, both before the story took shape and in an earlier version of the narrative. Print out copies of these illustrations (see Library of Congress Fair Use Policy for Classrooms) and have students write the story behind a single illustration. You might want to provide them with a variety of questions to prompt their ideas. This could be ideal for a shared writing experience in small groups, or individual students could select the illustration that speaks to them. Have students illustrate their stories about Vernon by using the crayon and gouache technique Stead demonstrates in the multimodal essay.
- Music for Bird. On Phillip Stead’s website (see Further Explorations below), you will find a book trailer for A Home for Bird. Have students watch the trailer and listen to the accompanying music either whole class via a computer and LCD projector, or in a listening/viewing station. What does the song, “Stay Calm, Act Natural,” written and played by Stead, make the students think of? How well do they think it accompanies the book? You might want to have students listen to the other book trailer music before embarking on a Philip Stead author-illustrator study, and have them predict the mood of each book based on the music.
- Author-Illustrator Study. Have your students explore Stead’s other works, including the Caldecott Award-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by his wife, Erin. See what connections they can make between the books. Some literary elements they might note are: the theme of friendship, the motif of lost objects, and quests/journeys.
- Author-Illustrator Study: Intertextuality and Motif. A Home for Bird provides you with an opportunity to introduce the concept of motif to the youngest of students. To prepare, read Stead’s multimodal essay on making A Home for Bird (see Further Explorations below), in which he discusses the recurring presence of cuckoo clocks in his books and the connection to his grandfather’s cuckoo clock. Read aloud A Home for Bird, and then have your students search for clocks in Stead’s other works. In your own words, share his reflection on this motif and show the photo of his grandfather’s clock (beware the pictures from The Shining in the article, and make sure you don’t show your students those images!). Next, explore the red balloon motif that Stead uses in this book, which his wife employed while illustrating A Sick Day for Amos McGee, and which originates in Goodnight Moon. You can see further ways of exploring the red balloon motif in children’s literature in our Classroom Bookshelf entry on Amos McGee: http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/2011/01/ala-caldecott-winner-sick-day-for-amos.html. Ask you students to consider why authors and illustrators might refer to one another’s work in their own.
Phillip Stead’s Website
Philip Stead’s Multimodal Essay on Creating A Home for Bird
NPR “From Scratch” Interview with Philip & Erin Stead, July 2011
Lobell, A. (1970). Frog and toad are friends. [I can read]. New York: Harper.
- This classic is the first book in an I Can Read series about two friends who know how to work out their differences.
- Red Ted and Crocodile, stuffed animals, leave the train station on a quest to find Red Ted's home, and his beloved owner, Stevie.
Stead, P. (2009).Creamed tuna fish and peas on toast. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
- Don’t you dare serve Wild Man Jack creamed tuna fish and peas on toast…you don’t know what might happen!
Stead, P. (2011). Jonathon and the big boat. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
- Jonathon embarks on a voyage, picking up friends along the way, including the special teddy bear Frederick his parents gave away.
Stead, P. (2010). A sick day for Amos McGee. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
- When zoo keeper Amos falls ill, the animals in his care come to his home to tend to him. See our entry at: http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/2011/01/ala-caldecott-winner-sick-day-for-amos.html .
Steig, W. (1971). Amos and Boris. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
- This classic picture book tells of the friendship of Amos the Mouse and Boris the whale, and has been influential in Stead’s work.
Willems, Mo. (2007). Today I will fly! [An elephant and piggy book]. New York: Hyperion.
- The first book in a hilarious beginner reader series about two good friends.