Readers first met Vernon in 2012's A Home for Bird, in which the bipedal yellow toad goes to great lengths to find a dwelling place for Bird, his new, nontalking blue friend. The book's ending reveals Bird to be a clock's inanimate cuckoo--a fact either lost on Vernon or of no consequence to him: his love for Bird is unconditional. In Philip C. Stead's new companion volume, Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories, Vernon returns in three tales that do nothing to reverse the impression that the little toad is a big softie.
In the blink-or-you'll-miss it "Waiting," Vernon is relieved of the tedium of waiting when the shell that he stands on to smell a tall flower turns out to be a snail who takes him "on his way." In "Fishing," Vernon and his friends Skunk and Porcupine do nothing but gab ("Do fish have toes?") when they're supposed to be fishing; eventually, they admit that they don't know how to fish, but they give their outing top marks anyway. And in "Gardening," Vernon misses Bird, so he sets off to "look for his memories"; meanwhile, Skunk and Porcupine, who note Vernon's sadness, plot to cheer him up and succeed circuitously.
In Vernon Is on His Way, Stead's media--gouache, crayon, chalk pastel and charcoal--leaves a distinctly inviting textural impression. Illustrations untouched by technology suit these stories untainted by modernity, which harbor a timeless message about how friendship can be transformative--and, in "Waiting," transportational. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author