I like to run my mouth about children’s book illustrations over at Seven Impossible Things, and I’m here today to tell you about some of the most beautiful and poignant ones I’ve seen all year. (I also like hyperbole, but I mean every word of that statement.)
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on three must-read picture books for kids headed to kindergarten.
Next week will see the release of Lane Smith’s newest picture book, Grandpa Green (Roaring Brook). “He was born a really long time ago,” the book opens rather cryptically. And on that first page readers see the topiary version of a wee, crying baby boy. A page turn reveals a young boy (the kind you don’t need to water with a hose), who tells us, while tending to these sculpted gardens, all about a man who lived “before computers or cell phones or television.” Throughout the book, the topiary structures reveal the history of this man’s life—his childhood, his wish to study horticulture, a war-time experience that kept him from doing so, his marriage, his children, and more—with the boy’s words concisely rendered via the text.
Using watercolors, oil paints and digital paint, Smith treats us to a layered and intricate world of verdant greens and occasional reds. Using perspectives that surprise and delight (the tall topiary wedding cake we see from its base to represent his great-grandfather’s marriage), as well as page turn techniques that propel the story with interest and ease, he depicts the loving relationship between a young boy and his great-grandfather in a world where memories are vivid and lush. Boldly defined on the page, in contrast to the almost whispery drawings of the humans, these concrete memories tell of a long, fulfilling life. And all from the perspective of the boy, pulling his gardening tools in a wagon, who clearly thinks the sun rises and sets in his great-grandfather.
And it’s not done without humor, too. Speaking of his great-grandfather’s marriage, the boy says, “They had many happy years together and never, ever fought. At least to hear him tell it.”
Now, I’m enough of an Illustration Junkie to have favorite spreads from the year, and I’m sorry to say to my reigning favorite that it has been booted for one of Smith’s breathtaking ones here in Grandpa Green. On an exquisite spread with merely the words “Now he’s pretty old,” we see the boy hanging from an old tree, which unapologetically takes up every inch of space in the spread, with vibrant green leaves on the left that turn to decaying brown ones on the right. The boy watches one brown leaf fall. It’s a striking metaphor for aging, moving in its veracity.
That’s right—it’s not easy being Green. He forgets things, including his “favorite floppy straw hat.” But the adoring boy is there to get it for him.
And bonus: At the book’s close, we get to meet the gardener extraordinaire, as the boy notes how the gardens help Grandpa Green remember all “the important stuff.” And it’s here we’re treated to a foldout spread, featuring the young boy—and his shrub counterpart—fighting a dragon. The leafy kind, of course.
Stunning. Spectacular. Simply don’t miss it this year.
GRANDPA GREEN. Copyright © 2011 by Lane Smith. Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.