One of Bridges Together’s supporters recently introduced us to a book that we’ve happily added to the Bridges Together library. Caldecott Honor Book Grandpa Green, written and illustrated by Lane Smith, tells the life story of one little boy’s great-grandfather via the beautiful and ever-changing garden that the man tends. The seemingly simple story embodies both the sweetness of the little boy’s view of his great-grandfather and the harder, more nuanced reality that accompanies adulthood and old age. And because it tangentially addresses the topic of Alzheimer’s and dementia, Grandpa Green provides a gentle way for families to broach an issue that touches so many lives. Smith, who is also the author of Madam President, The Stinky Cheese Man and other award-winning picture books, took the time to answer some questions for Bridges Together about Grandpa Green and his thoughts behind the book:
Can you explain the “brain spark” behind the genesis of Grandpa Green? What inspired you to write a story about a great-grandfather?
I wanted to see if I could encapsulate a life, or at least the highlights of a long life, in the limited format of a short picture book. I was thinking about my own grandfather, father and uncles as I wrote it.
We love the garden and topiary imagery. Is there a reason why you selected this theme to tell the story of the man’s life journey?
I didn’t want to do something traditional like flashbacks in a scrapbook – that’s been done before. So I thought of topiary. Plus it’s a lot of fun to illustrate animals and events in plant-form.
Alzheimer’s and dementia is obviously a topic with relevance to a lot of people. What kind of feedback have you received from people who have been touched by this?
I was a little taken aback by the response. All of my books previous to this one have been humorous. I would get real jokers at my book signings. With Grandpa Green, I got folks with tears in their eyes. At first I wasn’t sure how to react. I just embraced it. Everyone’s been affected by Alzheimer’s to some degree.
Something that is so great about Grandpa Green is the boy’s sweet and matter-of-fact retelling/recollection of his great-grandfather’s story. Can you explain why you chose for him to have that “tone”?
The boy is very young, probably not too opinionated himself yet, so I thought everything he says is stuff he has heard his Grandpa Green tell him over the years. We get the effect of the grandfather’s voice as filtered through the little boy’s.
What message would you like readers to take away after reading Grandpa Green?
I try not to put messages in my books, but I would hope after one reads Grandpa Green they give their own grandfolks or great grandfolks a call.