In his second Caldecott Honor book, Smith tells an intergenerational tale of a young boy traveling through the garden that is his great-grandfather’s life. The boy winds through the topiaries, picking up forgetful Grandpa Green’s dropped tools, and his memories, too. The simplicity of the child’s understanding of Grandpa Green’s multilayered life is deepened by poignant illustrations, simultaneously whimsical and realistic in black, white and many shades of green.
Topiary after topiary represents Grandpa Green’s journey from his farmboy days and schoolyard crushes to World War I and meeting his future wife in a Paris café, to the blooming of both their family and his life as a gardener. The camaraderie between young boy and old man permeates the book. The boy knows where he fits in his family and is at ease as Grandpa’s helper. The great-grandfather accepts the boy’s help with love and his own memory lapses with grace. In the end, their journeys merge as the boy creates his own topiary, his own place, in their garden of family history.
Best-selling author of titles including The Stinky Cheese Man (Caldecott Honor book with Jon Scieszka, 1992), John, Paul, George & Ben (2006) and Madam President (2008), Smith has illustrated works for other renowned children’s book writers, such as Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Judith Viorst. With Grandpa Green, he has created a book that resonates with all ages. For children, this is a calming tale of love. For adults, it’s a bittersweet conjurer of memory. From either perspective, this quietly brilliant book will spark conversation between generations about the roots and blossoming of their own family’s journey.