The publisher describes Philip Stead’s newest picture book, All the Animals Where I Live, as “unusually structured.” Indeed, it’s a meditation during which the author-illustrator takes note of the animals in and around his home in the country, and reflects upon how they inform his life. These spacious, easy-going 48 pages kick off with a walk down the dirt road from Stead’s house; the story is luxuriously paced, as if you’re experiencing the seasons outdoors right there with Stead.
Readers in a rush may see a rambling narrative, but look closely to see that Stead keeps the thread—a celebration of nature and family—throughout this book. Starting at his own home, his 90-year-old neighbor prompts thoughts of his childhood toy bear and his Grandma Jane; he’s then back at his home with his dog, Wednesday; and he closes, bringing things full-circle, with another remembrance of his grandmother. Along the way, we see various animals, some not mentioned explicitly in the text—cats, hummingbirds, a bear, dragonflies, crickets, an owl and more. The animals where he lives may not be living (like his plush teddy bear or the chickens on his Grandma’s blanket), but his observations of them reveal what he seems to value in this life—nature, its care and upkeep, kinship, reflection and contemplation.
The sunny, earth-toned illustrations, often rendered in sketchy, loose lines, are detailed and evocative. Stead’s close-up depiction of a lone coyote is especially haunting. One compelling spread features multiple sketches of his childhood teddy bear with one stark, powerful line: “I loved my Grandma Jane.” Elsewhere, he writes, “At night it is quiet. But only until you listen.” Readers who linger over and listen to this tale will be richly rewarded.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.