2011. New York: Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Picture book
Note: Lane Smith is the author and illustrator of the best-selling Jon, Paul, George & Ben, as well as It’s a Book, a New York Times bestseller that has been translated into 17 languages. He has illustrated books by Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Jack Prelutsky, Florence Parry Heide, and Jon Scieszka–including The Stinky Cheese Man, for which he won a Caldecott Honor award.
You’ll want to read this gorgeous little book more than once. Each time, you’ll discover something new to love in Lane Smith’s tribute to a grandfather who keeps a topiary “journal” of major events in his life. Grandpa Green grew up in a simpler time, before cell phones and television–and so had time to be reflective and creative. He fell in love, went to war, got married, had children and grandchildren, and documented it all in the way most natural to him, through the art of his garden. The words are few (much of the meaning unfolds through the art), and the story is deceptively simple. Yet it reveals so much about memories, self-expression, and the special, appreciative love that sometimes spans generations. This book is whimsical, yet deeply touching–almost reverent–in its homage to the gentle side of the human spirit. It’s a lovely book to share with young readers, one even beginners can navigate on their own. Yet adults of all ages will be drawn to its loving message–and of course, to the very beautiful visual memories: green, black, and white–with occasional significant splashes of red. (It makes a terrific Valentine.)
In the Classroom
1. Take a minute to enjoy the artwork displayed on the cover. What is the grandfather doing? Do any of your students know about topiary? Have they ever seen examples of it? Why might Grandpa Green be sculpting an elephant?
2. Be sure to share this book in a way that allows everyone to take in the art–which carries so much of the meaning. Use a document projector if possible, and allow students time to take in and even comment on the pictures. You may wish to read the book more than one time.
3. Connections between text and illustrations are sometimes obvious, sometimes less so. You might want to talk about this and as you go along, talk about why Grandpa Green chose to create particular pieces of art. Some students may recognize characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, and some may not.
4. Most of the pictures feature a little boy. Who is he? Is he the same person in every picture?
5. What does the author mean at the end of the story (the big fold-out) when he tells us that the garden “remembers” some things for Grandpa Green?
6. Not everyone has a topiary garden, but we have other ways of holding onto memories. What are some of them? How do your students hold onto their memories?
7. Do any of your students keep a journal? If so, how do they decide what to put into it? Try keeping journals for a week. Entries could be drawings, writing, photos pasted in–anything. At the end of the week, talk about the kinds of things you chose to remember and why. (Be sure you keep one, too!)
8. Where do your students imagine Lane Smith got his idea for this book? Did he perhaps have a grandfather like Grandpa Green? Or could he be like Grandpa Green himself? Talk about real-life experiences (gardening, cooking, traveling, pets) that might provide a basis for a story about a grandparent or other relative–or one about yourself. Create some “memory” stories of your own.
9. This book doesn’t use many words. Yet it tells the story of one person’s whole life. How is this possible? Do books always need many words?
10. It’s often said that writing with voice touches us. It makes us feel something. How does this book make you feel? How does it make your students feel? Is this a book for children or grown-ups? Or both? What do your students think?
11. Do your students have a favorite picture in the book? If so, which one is it–and why?
12. It’s sometimes said that great books are the ones people read more than once. Do your students imagine themselves reading this book more than one time? What other ways are there to tell if a book is “great”?
Coming up on Gurus . . .
How can you make the BEST use of rubrics, posters, or classroom kits? We’ll share some thoughts about this. Meantime, thanks for stopping by–and do come again! Happy Valentine’s Day. And for the best PD in writing on the planet, phone 503-579-3034. Give every child a voice.