Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

As far back as I can remember each spring, summer and fall I would garden with my Dad.  We spent endless hours turning the soil, coaxing life from seeds and plants, weeding, pruning and picking.  There were huge vegetable gardens showcasing award-winning tomato plants and flower gardens with breathtaking roses.  Time spent gardening with my Dad took on a magical quality.  We were removed from the normal hustle and bustle of our days into a quiet, serene world of beauty and purpose.  Gardening is a part of who I am and my gardens are a reflection of where I have been; my Mom's heritage peony bushes, a portion of my Dad's sage plant, a lilac bush I've moved twice that was a gift from a memorable eighth grade homeroom class and numerous other plants acquired as trades from fellow gardeners.

Given my background, even before all the buzz, I was drawn to Grandpa Green written and illustrated by Lane Smith by the cover alone; the young boy hanging from the tree looking at the topiary elephant being clipped by an older guy garbed as a gardener.  Shades of green reach out enveloping you with the endpapers and a foliage title page scripted in the same white lettering as the cover.

The text tells the story of the life of the elderly man .

He was born a really long time ago, before computers, cell phones or television. 

We follow his childhood on the farm, his bout with chicken pox in the fourth grade staying home but reading classic stories, his first kiss and his dream of studying horticulture.  A world war came taking him away from that dream but introduced him to his future wife.  They had a harmonious, happy life filled with children, grandchildren and a great-grand child, a young boy. 

Older now the grandfather forgets details but the garden is adorned with his most significant memories done in elaborate topiaries. His story closes with a single visual; a continuation of that which he has depicted most eloquently.

The title page indicates that Lane Smith utilized brush and waterproof ink to render his characters for this book.  Digital paint, watercolor, and oil paint fashioned the foliage.  These whimsical, lyrical illustrations not only compliment the narration but tell a story of their own.  Our fingers walk through a botanical museum displayed on pristine white illuminating each amazing delicate detail; lush leafiness amid graceful trunks and branches.

Each visual flawlessly leads into the next; at times an extension of the previous presentation.  The initial topiary of a crying baby has an arched spray of blue seemingly coming from his eyes.  When the next page is turned at a different angle we see that it is the young grandson holding a hose upright as he turns the spigot. 

As the grandfather's life's tale is recounted readers stroll along with his grandson through the greenery of those remembrances.  Along the way he gathers items:  a trowel, a glove (left on top of a baby chick looking like a cock's comb), a dustpan and whisk broom gathering fallen berries, a wagon carrying a pot, a watering can, eyeglasses, lunch pail and remnants of a partially eaten meal, hedge shears and a floppy straw hat.  Not only gazing at the riches around him this traveler through time interacts with certain topiary commemorations of a life well lived.

It is when the young grandson pulling the wagon laden with all the gathered goodies approaches his grandfather working on a new creation, that what we readers have suspected all along is confirmed; the deep and abiding love between this pair.  As a four page spread unfolds we are greeted with an amazing artistic accomplishment by the grandfather and Lane Smith.

Musing over the works of Lane Smith that I continue to adore, one word comes to mind, versatile.  This is the man who brought us The Happy Hockey Family, numerous collaborations with the witty, wondrous Jon Scieszka including the Caldecott Award winning, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairy Stupid Tales, Madam President, The Big Elephant in the Room and It's A Book

Grandpa Green has raised the bar clear up to the stars having universal appeal to all ages touching hearts, making us all as one.

The following links are to an outstanding two-part interview recently conducted with Lane Smith by the blog, Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves, Part One and Part Two.

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