In this reflective tale, Smith (It's a Book) departs from his customary irony to muse on the memories, talents, and traditions passed down through generations. Smith's young narrator, in overalls and rubber boots, describes his great-grandfather. The boy waters plants and tidies up in a magnificent topiary garden, lined in delicate ink and decorated with ornamental hedges in the shapes of people, animals, and iconic objects. "He was born a really long time ago, before computers or cell phones or television," says the boy, and the first topiary depicts a crying baby. Other creations include rabbit- and chicken-shaped shrubs to suggest a childhood farm; a head-shaped bush dotted with red berries ("In fourth grade he got chicken pox"); and an erupting cannon to signify wartime. Smith works in an impressionistic range of emerald, moss, and seaweed hues, memorializing Grandpa Green's life events in meticulously pruned shrubs. The child eventually catches up with an elderly man who "sometimes forgets things. But the important stuff, the garden remembers for him." It's a rare glimpse into Smith's softer side—as skillful as his more sly offerings, but crafted with honesty and heart. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)
A Caldecott Honor Book
“In this affecting picture book, a boy recounts the life of his beloved great-grandfather…The author's illustrations, a blend of line drawings and sponge painting, have a classic feel, and make clever use of the topiary theme, rewarding close examination and repeated reading.” The New Yorker
“Great-grandpa's memory may be going, but the past remains vibrantly alive in the playful topiaries that decorate his brilliantly green yard. Lush and magical.” People
“An unassuming little masterpiece…the book's power lies in its rich, allusive artistry.” New York Times Book Review
“It's a rare glimpse into Smith's softer sideas skillful as his more sly offerings, but crafted with honesty and heart.” Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Visually intriguing and emotionally resonant, this is a book to pore over and talk about. With each subsequent reading, it offers new layers of meaning and visual connections.” School Library Journal Starred Review
“Opening this book is like opening a gate to a secret garden, filled with the treasures of a life well lived. In his portrait of a boy who adores and honors his forgetful great-grandfather, Smith shows us that the things that are meaningful to the ones we love become part of our garden, too.” Shelf Awareness
“Though this book has lots of adult appeal, it will also be a wonderful bridge to exploring family history with the very young.” Kirkus Reviews
“Sketched with a finely lined fairy-tale wispiness and dominated by verdant green, the illustrations are not just creative but poignant.” Booklist
K-Gr 3—A clever premise, brilliant pacing, and whimsical illustrations offer a distinctive look at the life and artistic vision of one great-grandfather. A boy recounts the essential facts of the man's life: "He was born a really long time ago." "After high school his wish was to study horticulture." The imaginative art fills in what the words leave out by ingeniously chronicling Grandpa's story through the fanciful topiaries he creates. The sinewy tree limbs in black line have a sculptural quality, while airy line art drawn in a subtle palette depicting the boy, his great-grandfather, and the general landscape of the garden allow the fantastic creations to stand out. From the formal design of boxwood mazes to fantasy-inspired hedges, Smith uses a broad range of green hues and textures to create ornamental foliage that is inventive and charming. There is harmony in the overall design yet each page surprises and delights. Discerning viewers will identify a playful homage to The Wizard of Oz. Other more quirky creations may be open to interpretation. As he narrates his great-grandfather's story, the boy strolls through the garden picking up the pieces of Grandpa's trade, a garden glove here, a watering can there—Grandpa is getting forgetful. With a powerfully charged and perfectly placed line—"But the important stuff, the garden remembers for him"—readers are treated to a dramatic double gatefold revealing the panorama of Grandpa's life depicted in the living sculptures. Visually intriguing and emotionally resonant, this is a book to pore over and talk about. With each subsequent reading, it offers new layers of meaning and visual connections.—Caroline Ward, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT
An adoring great-grandson and a topiary garden tell the stories of one man's life.
Watering a garden, pulling a wagon, collecting dropped gardening gloves and tools, a little fellow works in an amazing topiary world made of memories. The trees tell the story of his great-grandfather's life—from birth to chicken pox to high school to military service and, later, marriage. Many of the illustrations morph with page turns: Tears from the baby become water from a hose; a mysterious conical shape becomes a cannon; a bunny near a tiny tree munches a carrot topiary. Splashes of red—berries, a hair bow, gunfire and a heart—make brief appearances in this green world, but green, like Grandpa's name, is the star of this show. When the boy reunites Grandpa Green with his missing things, readers discover that though Grandpa sometimes forgets, the garden remembers for him. The illustrations say what the text doesn't need to—that the love between boy and elder is elemental and honest. One surprising and sparkling gatefold shows the whole garden, with Grandpa Green working on his newest creation: his grandson fighting a dragon. Readers who slow down will be rewarded by this visual feast that grows richer with each visit.
Though this book has lots of adult appeal, it will also be a wonderful bridge to exploring family history with the very young.(Picture book. 5-9)
…an unassuming little masterpiece…the book's power lies in its rich, allusive artistry…
The New York Times