Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

  • Title: Grandpa Green
  • Author: Lane Smith
  • Publisher: Roaring Book Press
  • Year Published: 2011
  • ISBN: 1596436077
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 32
  • Age Range: 4-8 yrs
  • Genre: fiction
  • Award(s): Caldecott Honor book; full list available here.

Author information: Lane Smith has authored and illustrated many books for children, including many award winners. His website can be found here. The website includes a biography of the author, links videos as well as his books, artwork, contact information, and a charming list of FAQs. In response to a question about the appropriateness of his books, he responded, “I do not know your child. But I will say I do not subscribe to the notion that every book is for every child. I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books.” This statement gives insight into Lane’s creative choices as well as his decision to tackle complex themes in an unusual way in Grandpa Green.

Reviews: Grandpa Green  received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, as well as positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. Kirkus commented that “though this book has lots of adult appeal, it will also be a wonderful bridge to exploring family history with the very young.” Many reviews mention that the book is playful but heartfelt, and PW points out that it reveals a much softer side of Smith than many of his other works.

Readers annotation: Grandpa Green has a garden that tells his life story.

Summary: Grandpa Green is a gardener who preserves the memories of his life in the shape of topiaries that he shapes and cares for. His young grandson uses these hedges to walk the reader through the story of Grandpa Green’s life, from his childhood on a farm to his first kiss to going off to war and getting married. The narrator ends by saying that he loves his grandfather very much, and although his grandfather’s memory is fading, because of his garden he will always remember the important things that have happened to him.

Evaluation: The story of Grandpa Green is touching and combines a sense of playfulness with heavier themes of love, family and memory. The artwork is imaginative and fun–from the narrator stealing a kiss from one of the shrubs to the chicken pox topiary that was full of red fruits. This visual feast culminates in a two-page fold-out spread that shows the garden in its entirety, allowing readers to revisit all of the images they’ve seen as well as reminding them that these are the important moments in the life of this one man. This book is poignant and tender and will be as much of a joy for parents as for the children for whom this book is intended.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork in the book is delightful and holds up under numerous reads. The fold-out pages in which the reader can see the entire garden is a huge treat and ties the story together, and Smith adds depth to an otherwise light-hearted story with mentions of the war and Grandpa Green’s memory loss.
  • Popularity4/5  Each stage of Grandpa Green’s life is accompanied by a matching topiary, which will engage readers and keep them excited to dicover what other shapes these shrubs will take on. Some readers may feel there isn’t enough action in the story and may gravitate to books that are heavier in plot.
  • Appeal factors: Whimsical artwork, bright colors, unique method of storytelling, grandfather/grandson relationships, themes of memory and the meaning of a full life.


  1. Readers who appreciated the relationship between the narrator and his grandpa as well as the themes of memory loss and preservation of memories may like Little Mama Forgets by Robin Cruise. This book focuses on a girl and her grandmother and how they teach each other and share memories.
  2. The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman could be a good fit for readers who liked the fanciful use of hedges as a way of storytelling. Rather than being used to reflect on the past, the hedges in this story point each character towards their future and their hearts’ desires.

Book talk ideas: Talk about how Grandpa Green turns his memories into topiaries, so that his entire garden tells his life story. Ask kids what topiaries would be in their garden if they were to build one, and ask what other ways we have of keeping track of our memories. Potentially point out one or two of the topiaries in the book to illustrate this point.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • Which of Grandpa Green’s topiaries is your favorite?
  • How do you think the narrator feels about his grandpa?
  • What would be in your garden if you made topiaries out of your memories?

Reason for reading: This book may be one of the most fortuitous finds all semester, because I had no intention of ever picking it up. I had a huge list of Caldecott Honor and Winner books that I wanted to check out, but many of them were not on the shelf and I had to request them. Because I wanted to bring some books home with me that night, I just pulled up the whole Caldecott list of titles on my phone and searched the shelves to see which were available. Grandpa Green was on the shelf, and without any knowledge of the book, I took it home (and loved it).

Additional relevant information: Lane Smith collaborated on The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs with Jon Scieszka. The former was a Caldecott Honor book, and both demonstrate Smith’s quirky humor and desire to create odd books. Both were favorites of mine as a child.


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