Grandpa Green by Lane Smith



Smith, Lane. Grandpa Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2011. ISBN 9781596436077

Plot Summary

Grandpa Green’s great-grandson takes the reader through a garden of memories in this beautifully illustrated look at the title character’s life. When Grandpa Green can no longer tell his stories, the shrubs and trees he has so masterfully crafted tell his story for him. Major events in his life such as his birth, the time he got chicken pox and had to stay home for a week, his time as a soldier in the war, meeting and marrying his wife, and the births of children and grandchildren are portrayed through the foliage.

Critical Analysis

Lane Smith uses a small but vibrant color palette to bring to life Grandpa Green’s story. An endearing great-grandson who very much admires the title character leads the reader through the garden (and through his great-grandfather’s life) as he tends to the shrubs and trees with his tools, maintaining, in essence, the stories and memories of his great-grandfather. Throughout the majority of the book, the reader has the feeling that all the action is being carried out by the grandfather, while the great-grandson is a mildly involved bystander, but when the first image of Grandpa Green is revealed, the action is shifted to the child as he begins to show how he now takes care of his great grandfather (by giving him his hat he forgets) and how he creates the last shrub in the garden: an image of Grandpa Green with his hat on.

Smith maintains simple, straightforward text, allowing the illustrations to be the heart of his story. He uses vivid green with touches of red, orange and yellow to give life to each shrub and tree, making the reader feel as if they are experiencing the events right along with Grandpa Green as they happened as well as with his great grandson as he retells and relives them while he cares for them. Smith shares some recognizable storybook characters with the readers, providing nostalgia for adults and possible text to text relations for children. The muted, speckled coloring of the two characters in the book versus the full, intense coloring of the foliage speaks to the importance of the latter and supports the idea that this is a story about family and about remembering one’s past as you grow older.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The first time I read it, I thought it was good. The second time I read it, I thought it was very good. The third time, I thought it was great. It is one of those books where you find something new each time you read it. The familiar characters such as the tin man and the cowardly lion were very clever additions.

Review Excerpts

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books
( WON AWARD in 2011 )
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
( WON AWARD in 2011 )
Caldecott Medal
American Library Association Notable Books for Children
( WON AWARD in 2012 )
Red Clover Award
Georgia Children’s Picture StoryBook Award

“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

“… With each subsequent reading, it offers new layers of meaning and visual connections.”–School Library Journal Starred Review

“An unassuming little masterpiece…the book’s power lies in its rich, allusive artistry.” —New York Times Book Review


Read another book by Lane Smith such as:

  • It’s a Book, ISBN 9781596436060
  • Abe Lincoln’s Dream, ISBN 9781596436084

Have discussions before and/or after reading the book such as:

  • Have you had to stay home sick for a long time? If so, what did you do?
  • Do you have a garden or know someone who does? What do you have to do to take care of it?
  • What do you know about your grandparents? If nothing, do you have a friend whose grandparents you know?

Have students draw pictures of what their garden would contain (big events in their life).

(image from, accessed January 18, 2015, cover art by Lane Smith)


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