We've gotten this gorgeous story out of the library several times now, and each time, I've vowed that I'm going to go home and blog about it. Grandpa Green is an absolutely beautiful book, brought to life by some of the loveliest, most creative illustrations I've ever seen.
In this heartfelt, poignant story, a young boy recounts the life of his great-grandfather, a remarkable man whose experiences and memories have been magically preserved in his garden. As we wander among Grandpa Green's topiary trees, we learn of his childhood on a farm, time as a soldier in a world war, how he met his wife in a French cafe, and of the family they went on to create together. Along the way, the great-grandson is seen admiring the memories so beautifully sculpted for him. If you look closely, you'll also notice that he is gradually collecting gardening tools that have been left behind, as if to reassure us that his great-grandfather's memories and talents will live on long after he is gone.
Grandpa Green is definitely the type of book that kids and adults of all ages will love for different reasons. My children love studying the illustrations and quietly observing new details each time we read it, especially given their love of nature. In many ways, though, I think this book is one that I love and appreciate far more than they do. There are so many clever little things within the story that might be missed by kids but exhibit exactly why this book is so brilliant, such as the topiary sculpture of an elephant on the page that tells us how the great-grandpa sometimes "forgets things like his favorite floppy straw hat," or the way that the leaves on the tree gradually fade from green to brown when we learn that now Grandpa Green is pretty old. I feel like we could read this story 100 times and discover something new each time.
Grandpa Green was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2012, and deservedly so. The text is brief, but the illustrations add volumes to this touching, whimsical story. The description on the jacket cover describes this lovely book as exploring "aging, memory, and the bonds of family history and love." The New York Times Book Review calls it "an unassuming little masterpiece" whose "power lies in its rich, allusive artistry." I couldn't agree more.