- Craig Graziano
In Grandpa Green, Lane Smith tells the story of one man's life through his passion. Topiary gardeners shape bushes and trees into fantastic sculptures of whatever they desire. We meet Grandpa Green as a gigantic bushy baby, sprinkling tears with the words, "He was born a really long time ago," beneath.
We go on to explore Grandpa's life through the garden, with different sculptures illustrating each step in his life. He grows up on a farm, escapes into the wonder of tales like The Wizard of Oz, goes to war, and starts a family. Smith combines the lush greens of the topiary scultpures with very thin black lines for tree trunks, branches, animals in the garden, and the great-grandson who narrates the story. That choice allows the sculptures to pop off the page like a vibrant special effect.
The pages are abundant with little bits of business. The narrator collects items in his wagon as he travels through the seemingly never-ending garden. A trowel, watering can, eyeglasses are all picked up as the child makes his way to Grandpa Green. The story is a gentle one, with sparse, simple text allowing the pictures to do the heavy lifting. Smith is one of the most talented picture book artists alive and this is some of his most beautiful work on display. You can find other titles that he has written and illustrated here.
The book may put some in mind of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. I also recommend Chris Van Allsburg's mysterious picture book The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, in which a boy explores a garden with very different results. Both Smith's and Van Allsburg's books earned the Caldecott Honor. Any older readers who may want to lean more about topiary gardeners should track down Errol Morris' poetic documentary, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, where a lion tamer, robotics expert, naked mole rat scientist, and topiary gardener offer the outlooks on their work and lives.
Grandpa Green offers up a lot of love. Check it out today and share it with the ones whom you love.