|Headshot of Stacey Rattner.|
Courtesy of author.
|Book Cover of Vernon is on His Way |
by Philip C. Stead
Last month I was leading a workshop on new books. One elementary librarian’s response after reading Vernon is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead was “It’s very Philip Stead.” I would go a bit deeper and call it Philip Stead meets Arnold Lobel.
Three friends, Vernon, Porcupine and Skunk, are the stars of this beautifully illustrated picture book divided into three chapters. In the first chapter, wide eyed Vernon the frog is waiting and waiting for his pal the snail to wake up. Minimal illustrations amid much white space help to create a situation that the reader can easily relate to Vernon’s impatience. When his friend finally wakes up, “Vernon is on his way.”
The book wakes up in the second and third chapters. In “Fishing” Vernon, Skunk and Porcupine set out to go fishing. Porcupine, who does not know how to fish, is anxious about the upcoming adventure and, as a result, is not able to eat or sleep.With a single bobber in the water, the fishing experience is more about the three friends conversing and bonding. Nerves subsided, it is Porcupine who asks while looking out into the purple hued sky, “Can we go fishing tomorrow?”
|Illustration of Skunk, Vernon, and Porcupine sitting in the forest from Vernon is on His Way by Philip C. Stead.|
In the third chapter, Bird has not been around for a very long time and Vernon’s memories of him are fading. “So Vernon went out to look for his memories” by the river, in the forest, and in the clouds. This worries Porcupine and Skunk and they set out on their own to find things to cheer him up.
As lovely and heartwarming as this book is, I don’t believe it is a contender for the Geisel award. The first chapter starts off strong in the running, with repetitive text, short sentences and context clues. It is simple and easy to comprehend. However, the subsequent chapters are more complex. In fact, I’ve observed adults question the plot. Random ideas are not supported by the illustrations which may confuse emerging readers. “Do fish have toes?” “If I were a fish, I would not like to be wet all the time.” Even if those sentences make them giggle, readers may still not see how it all fits within with the story.
In addition, there are some words that early readers will be challenged to read and define such as ruining, foraging, and rummaged. In these cases the illustrations don’t assist the reader in pronouncing the word or providing clues to its definition.
Fans of Lobel’s Frog and Toad (and who isn’t?) will definitely want to pick up a copy of Vernon. My prediction? Young readers will request Vernon to be read aloud over and over again. Then once confident with the story, it will become a favorite independent book. Children will enjoy and relate to the quirky characters and situations. Discovering surprises with each new reading will bring a sunlit smile to their face as they read one of their very first chapter books. Not a Geisel winner but a winner nonetheless.
|Illustration of Skunk, Vernon, and Porcupine waving as the sun sets and a fish jumps in the water|
from Vernon is on His Way by Philip C. Stead.