Friday, November 18, 2011

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith - Book Review

The end-of-the-year lists have started cropping up. Just this past month The New York Times announced The 2011 Best Illustrated Children’s Books and Publisher's Weekly compiled the PW Best Books 2011: Children's Books. I like to keep a close eye on these early lists. It's possible the next Caldecott winner is among the titles mentioned. Don't believe me? Just look at the lists from the past few years and you'll see a connection.

Lane Smith's new picture book, Grandpa Green, made it onto both lists. His book gracefully tackles the subject of aging and intergenerational relationships. With unusually lush, green illustrations, it's simply a beautiful book.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. Roaring Book Press (August 2011); ISBN 9781596436077; 32 pages
Review Book Source: Copy from our local library

Grandpa Green captures important life moments in his garden, a horticultural memoir of sorts showing events and people from his past preserved in topiary. His great-grandson explores the lush trip down memory lane, stopping by all the carefully shaped trees and bushes and picking up the tools his great-grandfather has dropped along the way. A crying baby trimmed from a bush symbolizes Grandpa Green's birth, a carrot shaped topiary reminds everyone of his farming background, and a cannon and parachuters made out of plants represent his wartime experiences. "He used to remember everything. Now he's pretty old." Grandpa Green shapes his story plant by plant with his clippers, his most significant memories living on, flourishing and serving as a reminder, while adding new ones as he is assisted by his great-grandchild. Grandpa Green's legacy stands, ready to be passed down generation after generation.

Grandpa Green is the kind of book that affects people, young and old, in different ways. It's a poignant and interesting exploration of a life, and though Smith describes it as a fictional story, it seems deeply personal. Those with an elderly friend or family member or those with loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will find it particularly touching. And even though the book tackles serious topics, there are plenty of touches of humor and playfulness that you'd expect from Smith like bunnies eating a topiary carrot and a reference to the Wizard of Oz. Both my daughter and son love to discuss all the detailed images found in the ink line drawings and painted foliage.

Minimal text accompanies the amazing illustrations. The story is told by the great-grandson as he wanders through the garden, connecting young readers to the story. It's not easy bringing up the topic of aging with children. My own children are lucky enough to see two of their great-grandparents regularly and while they love them dearly, it's hard for them to see past the wrinkles and gray hair, to understand the past and see how it intertwines with their own life. It's amazing how books like this help bridge the gap and give kids reasons to search out their own family stories.

I know a lot of people have questioned whether this is a book for adults or for children. In our experience, Grandpa Green is for both. It's one my daughter has picked up on her own numerous times to stare at the illustrations (she noticed the cannon before me!) and because of the easy text, read herself and ask questions. It's even one my preschool-aged son likes (mostly because of the train and airplane images.) It's a book my family, our entire extended family can connect to because, no doubt, we all have or have had our own Grandpa Greens in our lives. Read the book together with children, linger over the fine illustrations, and encourage them to ask questions about their own great-grandparents, grandparents and family history. And, if you're like me, you'll find yourself profoundly touched as well, perhaps even a little watery-eyed.

Related Links:
Lane Smith - Author/Illustrator Website
"Q & A with Lane Smith" by Sue Corbett - Publisher's Weekly
"Going Green with Lane Smith" by Julie Danielson - Kirkus Reviews
"A Garden of Memories" by Jennifer M. Brown - School Library Journal

Book Talk Tuesday

Browse more book posts at Little Sprout Books' Feed Me Books Friday, Book Sharing Monday at Smiling like Sunshine, What My Child is Reading at Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns, The Lemme Library's Book Talk Tuesday in addition to Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.

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Jackie Higgins said...

We loved this one too. I think it is able to speak to different audiences on different levels. Plus, it's different than anything else that is out there. I think it helps kids to think outside the box... I mean, who makes a timeline out of topiaries? That's cool!

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I read another review of this book and thought that it sounds very interesting. Thanks for joining WMCIR!