A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead

Lynn:  My grandsons and picture book authors and illustrators have taught me to read a picture book from the cover straight through to the back – no skipping anything!  My YA book background always had me eager to hop right to the first page of text but even when the focus group were little guys they wanted to examine everything – and rightly so!  There are often many visual gems tucked into the inside covers.  Philip Stead enforces that lesson wonderfully in A Home for Bird (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter 2012) as the verso pages hold an important clue to Bird’s identity.

Vernon the toad is out foraging one day when he finds Bird.  Vernon tries to make Bird, who is shy but a good listener, feel at home but he senses that Bird is sad although he never speaks.  So Vernon sets out to find Bird a home.  They try many places but still Bird says nothing.  But Vernon is a determined friend and at last they find a small house where they stop to rest for the night.  Readers will recognize the battered little house that needs repair as Bird’s true home and Stead stretches the out the reveal till the last delicious moment when Bird finally speaks.  Vernon, the loyal friend, is happy and so are the readers.

I loved this sweet story of friendship and determination and the simple yet nuanced telling.  So much is added to the story through the illustrations, as they joyously extend the text.  Here’s a book to read and then immediately flip back to the start and read again, this time tracking the clues.  I adored the illustrations but am woefully ignorant of artistic media so I can only say that they have a look of being done in pen and crayon  – but crayon in the most imaginative and effective way I’ve ever seen.  We’re definitely adding this one to our library for the youngest member of the focus group.  He’s a little young right now but it won’t be long!

Cindy: Since Lynn did all the hard work of introducing the book, describing its merits, adding the cover art and linking to the Booklist review, I had some time to go in search of answers about the artwork. I got sidetracked along the way (my usual Internet research strategy, but I used to get sidetracked in World Book Encyclopedia as a kid, too, so nothing new there, just a new medium) with a book trailer for A Home for Bird that you can watch at the bottom of the page here. Stead’s original music is the soundtrack.

But, even better is the link I found on Stead’s page to the creative process post he whipped up for Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Here you get the full story of the six year journey that brought this book to publication. Early sketches, plotting problems, decision about art materials (Lynn, he used water soluable crayons and gouache), and photos of the process and the end results. This post would make a great presentation for students. Elementary students could learn about the picture book making process from the artist’s standpoint and secondary students could benefit from the lessons involved in rewriting, re-illustrating, and taking your time to find the right story or to keep working on something to make it the best it can be. In this world of quick and shoddy journalism, of instant gratification, and of impermanence due to lack of quality, this journey and the resulting charming book are a breath of fresh air.

Besides the art there are just so many things to love about this book. Bird doesn’t talk but Vernon acknowledges his shyness by giving him credit for being a good listener. Vernon exhibits unconditional positive regard for his new friend…accepts him for who he is but dedicates himself to trying to make him happier without benefit of any reward for himself but doing a good deed for a friend. And, with plenty of “forager” relatives of my own, I loved the collecting aspect…and the repurposing of used and old things to give them new life. This is a book to treasure…hold it tight so it doesn’t fall off any moving trucks. You won’t want to lose it!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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