Lane Smith's Grandpa Green is a picture book that stands out from the crowd. It's a bit difficult to even describe, but I think that it's brilliant. Green's young protagonist tells the story of his great-grandfather's life, illustrated by a blend of topiary images and pen and ink sketches. We see the topiaries that Grandpa Green, a gardener, has constructed to help remember the different stages of his personal history. Eventually, we see the intrepid young narrator learning from Grandpa Green, and then honoring him with his own topiary.
Grandpa Green is about family and history, and about love and respect. It's truly beautiful, although a bit too obscure to be appreciated by the youngest of readers. There is, however, humor, too. Particularly early in the book. Like this:
"He grew up on a farm with pigs and corn and carrots ...
In fourth grade he got chicken pox.*
*Not from the chickens."
This is accompanied (over multiple pages) by a topiary of a carrot, and then a topiary of a chicken, with a raised tail, and a chick hatching out of an egg below, and then a topiary of a boy in bed with (berry-generated) chicken-pox.
Generally the humor in Grandpa Green is the tender sort of humor, the kind you see in families. Like when you tease Grandpa for forgetting his hat, but you also quietly find it for him.
This is a book in which the text and illustrations are so well integrated that they couldn't possibly have been produced by separate people. I especially loved this page:
"He had to stay home from school. So he read stories about secret gardens and wizards and a little engine that could."
This is paired with a topiary of the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman, and a tiny house perched on top of a twister. Gorgeous! And the text doesn't need to specify that one of the "wizards" that the boy read about was the Wizard of Oz.
The pictures, as befitting a story in topiary, are mostly green and white, with a few dashes of other colors (mostly red) thrown in here and there. There is one special illustration near the end of the book where two pages fold out, and a four-page-wide picture lies on the inside. As a parent, I worry about those fold-out pages tearing. But as a reader immersed in Grandpa Green's story, I find them magical.
Lane Smith uses a unique illustration style to bring Grandpa Green, a story with warmth and humor, to life. Grandpa Green is a book to be cherished by families everywhere. I think that it would pair well with Dan Yaccarino's All the Way to America (though very different in style). I do think that it's more suited to a one-on-one read-aloud session than to large group reads. But it's a wonderful picture book for families with kids in the 5-8 range. It would also make a nice gift book for the grandparents. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Isaac Z
Reviewed by: morninglightmama | Natalia | rebeccareid | scope notes
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