Thursday, December 29, 2011

4. Grandpa Green

Written & illustrated by Lane Smith
$16.99, ages 5 and up, 32 pages

A boy clomps happily through a topiary garden, reflecting on all of the great moments of his great-grandpa's life, in this magical picture book.

Acclaimed author-illustrator Lane Smith celebrates the love between grandparents and grandchildren as leafy tendrils twine about the pages.

Though some of Grandpa Green's memories have begun to fade, he has preserved the most meaningful ones in meticulously clipped topiaries around his garden.

His grandson roams the garden in mud boots with a wagon in tow, and passes bushes shaped to represent each stage of his great-grandpa's life, beginning with Grandpa Green's birth.

This first bush is clipped to suggest that his great-grandpa burst into the world, wanting to be noticed all those years ago.

The topiary is sheared into a bawling baby and a waterfall of tears arcs down from his eyes. A stray vine twirls out from the top of the baby's head like a newborn curl.

The boy enters the garden along a stone path lined with trees, each wonderfully organic and finely textured with ink lines.

Inside, the boy remembers that Grandpa Green grew up on a farm with pigs and vegetables, and he chases away a rabbit who's nibbled on a giant spiraling topiary clipped like a carrot.

Later in life, his great-grandpa dreamed of studying horticulture, but instead he went off to war. A cannon-shaped hedge fires off a topiary ball over the fold.

The fire of the blast is depicted by a tree sticking sideways out of the canon's neck, its leaves and flowers as red as flames.

At times the boy hunkers down on the ground or lays on a branch in a tree, taking in all the memories that he sees: Grandpa Green falling love, having a family, growing old and alas, losing memory.

The boy climbs an elephant topiary to retrieve his great-grandpa's garden hat, one of many things Grandpa Green's begun to lose track of. But the important stuff his great-grandpa still remembers. 

Just look at Granpa Green now!

He's standing on an overturned wooden planter, shearing a shrub in his grandson's likeness. The topiary shows the boy just as he is today, playing in the garden, fending off a dragon with a vine-wrapped sword.

Smith's illustrations are lush and full life, and his use of topiaries is poetic.

Typically clipped from living, aged shrubs, topiaries are fitting metaphors for the enduring memories handed down from one generation to the next.

Magical and touching, this is a tale that seems to sprout off the page. By book's end, it even feels as if a tendril or two are wrapping themselves around us.

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