Every Dog in the Neighborhood

[Many Calling Caldecott posts this season will begin with the Horn Book Magazine review of the featured book, followed by the post's author's critique.]


Every Dog in the Neighborhood
by Philip C. Stead; illus. by Matthew Cordell
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.    g
6/22    978-0-8234-4427-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-5298-9    $11.99

Louis tells his grandma that he wants a dog. When she replies that there are already enough dogs in the neighborhood, Louis goes door to door to get a record of how many. As a result, he doesn’t get just a tally of the dogs; he also gets to know his neighbors — Mr. Pierce, whose dog Harvey “will always live in my heart”; a blind woman with a guide dog; and many more (including a surprise appearance by Sadie from Stead and Cordell’s Special Delivery, rev. 3/15). Meanwhile, in a subplot told only in the pictures, civic-minded Grandma rolls up her sleeves and establishes a dog park in a previously neglected part of town, City Hall clearly having given her an unsatisfactory response to the letter we saw her typing. As she tells Louis, “Sometimes if you want something done you’ve just got to do it yourself.” Cordell brings to the page a vivid cast of characters as Louis canvasses the neighborhood. His shaggy, loose-lined illustrations in warm pastels are detailed and filled with humor. (The man who owns a dog named E. B. looks a lot like the Charlotte’s Web author.) Stead creates an indelible character in Grandma, who is fierce, determined, and kind, and he leaves plenty of room in his lively text for Cordell to add layer upon layer to this already nuanced tale — one that ends sweetly, in more ways than one. JULIE DANIELSON

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Philip Stead and Matthew Cordell's grandma is my favorite picture-book character of the year. She is sharp as hell, observant, civic-minded, and pissed off. (You know how the classic bumper sticker goes: If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.) And she's someone who rolls up her sleeves and puts her ideas into action, taking care of matters herself, when needed. As she tells her grandson Louis, "Sometimes if you want something done you've just got to do it yourself." I love how her and Louis's story unfurls.

First, please indulge me in pointing out my love of the many visual details in this book, the things you notice if you are not reading the book in a hurry. (Never read picture books in a hurry.) There's the fact that Grandma types her letters to city hall on a typewriter. No laptop for her, thanks very much: "CLACK CLACK." (How I love this.) There's the fact that she wears goggles for the work she does in the abandoned lot she turns into a dog park: she's smart, observant, civic-minded — and she exercises caution! There's the Matilda sighting — the Roald Dahl kind — in the window of the home of dogs Peapod and Matilda. (This is fitting, given the Quentin Blake-esque energy of Cordell's line work.) There's the Sadie spotting — Sadie is the star of Stead and Cordell's Special Delivery, published in 2015 — and you can even spot that book's cover in an outdoor scene. Don't you think dog #10, E. B., looks a lot like a pig? (Wilbur?) And do you see the owl that Louis's flashlight beam captures at night when Grandma is taking him to meet Mr. Kahn and Baklava? (And how about the mystery around Mr. Kahn? Why must he leave his dog and "say goodbye"? This always puts a big lump in my throat.) And, toward the end, there's the abundant exhaust coming from the city bus, which prompts Grandma to scowl, put her hands on her hips, and return to her typewriter. Let's not forget the dog (it might even be dog #11, Agnes) who stares directly at readers on the back of the dust jacket.

All of these details bring the story to life for readers and tell us so much about our characters. And every time you read the book, you spot something new.

Here are other things I love: the book's warm pastel-colored palette; Cordell's hand-lettering throughout the story; and how truly inclusive Louis's community is. This is a lengthy text (in an era of spare ones) and it's a forty-page book and a lot is going on, but Cordell manages to keep it all from looking too cluttered. He knows how to compose a spread and where to draw the reader's eye.

But I'm saving the best for last. The thing I love the most in a book with a skerjillion things to love about it is how Cordell extends the text with his illustrations. Let's say you were talking to someone who didn't know anything about picture books and how they work and you wanted to give them a masterful example of the most important hallmark of a picture book — that the pictures say what the words do not and that they expand upon the words and provide information essential to the story. Well, look no further. Just hand them this book.

Cordell extends Stead's text in all kinds of delightful ways. One example: the text doesn't tell readers that Grandma's knee was correct in telling her that it was going to rain; the illustrations show it. (And the text is parsed so that all we see under that illustration is: "That's why I love her." Brilliant.) But consider the fact that Grandma's entire narrative — that she cares about her community, regularly writes letters to City Hall in an effort to make her community better, and single-handedly turns a lot the city has neglected into Grandma's Dog Park— is conveyed in the visual narrative alone. We read things like: "She is busy writing another letter." But that's about it. Every bit of that story line is told to us in the illustrations. I'd like to add that this is obviously the work of an illustrator, yes, but this is also the very deliberate work of the author, who must know how to craft a text in such a way that leaves plenty of room for the illustrator (which is why I wish the Caldecott could also go to the author in such cases, but I digress).

What will the Caldecott committee think of this one? No clue at all. But I know that it's a funny, genuinely sweet, entertaining picture book that has something to say (without finger-wagging it) — and that it's a picture book doing what only picture books can do: it is, as Uri Shulevitz puts it in Writing with Pictures, "'written' with pictures as much as [it is] written with words." And, to boot, it's all in Cordell's distinctive, indelible style.

And now I'm going to stop clack-clacking on my own keyboard and go take a walk, because I happen to subscribe to Grandma's advice "to go for a walk every day." Have you seen Every Dog in the Neighborhood and do you also love it? Tell me in the comments.

Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also reviews for The Horn Book, Kirkus, and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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