Vernon Is On His Way: Small Stories

illus. by Philip C. Stead. 64p. Roaring Brook. Jun. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626726550.
OrangeReviewStarPreS-Gr 1—Vernon, the bighearted little toad from A Home for Bird, is back in this series of very short tales. As in most of Stead's work, this is a quiet book in which seemingly mundane activities—like waiting, going fishing, or missing a friend—offer young readers a mirror for their big emotions and deep thoughts. Divided into three brief chapters, the book features Vernon and his pals Skunk and Porcupine, as well as a few new friends. In "Waiting," Vernon sits longingly on a shell. What he's waiting for is not clear, but when the shell turns out to be a snail, the toad is "on his way." In "Fishing," Porcupine is anxious because he's never fished before; he doesn't want to ruin his friends' good time. In the end, all turns out well—and, in a laugh-out-loud surprise, "fishing" entails shouting an enthusiastic "HELLO!" at a passing fish. In "Gardening," Vernon is despondent. He hasn't seen his friend Bird in a long time, and sometimes "memories are not so easy to remember." Though Bird does not appear, Porcupine and Skunk work hard to cheer up their pal. Stead's world is filled with characters whose empathy, kindness, and calm resolve make them easy to love. Though the drama is subdued, the interior life of his creatures is rich, and the humor, though subtle, delights. The mixed-media art, with childlike crayon textures and colorful pastel smudges, depicts the characters with soulful expressions and charming vulnerability.
VERDICT This heartwarming collection is perfect for one-on-one reading. Share with fans of Laura Vaccaro Seeger's "Bear and Dog" and Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" books.

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