Grandpa Green
by Lane Smith

Lane Smith's Grandpa Green

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

A story about preserving memories

This sweet book might just as well be called Grandpa Greenery.

Our narrator is a young boy who introduces us to his great-grandfather by way of the old man's expansive topiary garden.

The thing is, for Great-Grandpa Green, the topiaries represent memories. His garden is a scrapbook, rendered in living, green sculpture.

Grandpa Green as baby

   He was born a really long time ago,
   before computers or cell phones or television.
   He grew up on a farm with pigs and corn and carrots...
   and eggs.

In this light-on-text book, we're already 6 pages in by the time we've read the above text, and we've seen gorgeous topiaries of

  • a crying baby
  • bunnies
  • a giant carrot
  • a chicken, and
  • a hatching chick

The sculptured greenery is a timeline of the great-grandfather's life.

I was reminded of the work of neuroscientist Dan Siegel, who tells us that well-bonded children have been given a sense of who their parents (and grandparents) were as young people. In other words, knowing an older person's history nurtures close relationships between the generations.

We learn, gradually, that there's something driving Grandpa Green to create these garden memories. As the child explains to us, Great Grandpa doesn't remember things quite as well as he used to, and adult readers will get a sense that the old man is on the decline.

   He sometimes forgets things...
   But the important stuff,
   the garden remembers for him.

That final line of text leads to a fold-out four page spread depicting the topiary garden in its full glory.

Author-illustrator Smith won his second Caldecott Honor with this book (the first coming for his illustration of Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man). When you create pictures this moving and meaningful, you don't need all that many words!

Grandpa Green on Amazon.

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