Too Darn Cute

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Home for Bird

A Home for Bird
Written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead
Winner of the Cybils Award for Fiction Picture Book published in 2012

Vernon is a very friendly toad who meets a new friend, Bird, while foraging for interesting things. After showing Bird around and introducing him to his friends, Bird remains silent. Vernon becomes worried that Bird is sad and misses his home. A loyal friend, Vernon goes on a quest to help Bird find his home in order to make him happy.

This is an incredibly cute story! Vernon is a thoughtful, patient friend who tries so hard to help his new friend. The illustrations are great - what looks like a combination of crayon and watercolor. They help bring out the subtle humor of the story, showing us that Bird is actually made of wood (though Vernon doesn't seem to notice). I loved seeing how Vernon interpreted all the moments of Bird's silence as positive personality traits. The story is not complicated but has a perfectly happy ending. It is a fun read and I have no doubt you will enjoy it.

This would be a fun story to use in the classroom. It would be a great, quick read aloud for younger grades, but can be used for older grades as well. I love using picture books when introducing and practicing reading comprehension strategies. Because they are short and simple, students can practice a particular skill on the whole book within a single lesson. They are engaging and interesting and require no background knowledge of the story. This book would be great to use in a lesson to practice questioning or making inferences.

Questioning: Good readers ask themselves questions while they read to clarify and better understand the text they are reading. I really like the QAR (Question-Answer Relationship) strategy for asking and answering questions based on differing amounts of explicit information. It is a good guide to helping students think about different kinds of questions and the application of what they are reading. Let's review the four parts of the QAR strategy with examples from this book:

  • Right There: These are questions that have a single answer written explicitly in the text. You can point to the answer. 
    • Example: What was Vernon doing when he found Bird? Answer: He was foraging, or searching, for interesting things.
  • Think and Search: The answer to this question can also be found explicitly in the text, but is usually found in more than one spot. 
    • Example: Why does Vernon think Bird is shy? Answer: Bird does not say anything when Vernon introduces him to his friends.
  • Author and You: Readers must use their prior knowledge AND information in the text to answer the question.
    • Example: Why do you think Vernon was sad during his journey? Answer: He was probably sad because he really wanted to help Bird find his home, but nothing seemed to be working. I get sad when I'm trying to help someone but cannot.
  • On Your Own: These questions are answered based on a reader's prior knowledge and experience. Though they are related to the story, reading the text is not essential to answering these questions. 
    • Example: How do you feel when you help a friend? Answer: I feel happy and proud of myself because my friend is happy, too.

Making Inferences: Good readers make inferences to "read between the lines." They use background information and clues in the story to understand what the author means even if he doesn't say something explicitly. This can be a difficult strategy for students and they need to see it and practice it many times in order to become comfortable doing it. I like to break it into three parts (and provide graphic organizers for the students): 1)The author says, 2) and I know, 3) so I can infer... This story provides several opportunities to practice inferring. Here are some examples I found in this story:

          The author says: Vernon thinks Bird is a good listener.
          I know: I like to be friends with people who listen to me.
          So I can infer: Vernon thinks Bird is his friend.

          The author says: Vernon was sad.
          I know: I feel sad when I am trying to do something but it is not
          So I can infer: Vernon is sad because he doesn't feel like he's helping
          his friend.

          The author says: Vernon thinks Bird is very brave when they use a
          balloon to fly.
          I know: I would probably scream if I was flying away with a balloon.
          So I can infer: Vernon thinks that Bird is brave because he isn't acting

There are a lot of places students can make inferences about what Vernon is thinking and why he does what he does. The pictures also create many clues that can be used to infer. I would probably use this story to model making inferences or to practice with students during a lesson by asking them questions. They probably made many inferences naturally without thinking much about it. Students can also practice making predictions which is a type of inference. They use clues to make their best guess about what will happen. There are several opportunities for students to make predictions throughout the story as well.

Whether as a tool in the classroom or as a fun bedtime story, go find this book at your library! It is a cute story about friendship and has a really fun ending.

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