author: Katey Howes
illustrator: Rebecca Hahn
Hardcover picture book
10 x 10 inches
Release date: August 29, 2017
About the Book
Grandmother Thorn treasures her garden, where not a leaf, twig or pebble is allowed out of place. But when a persistent plant sprouts without her permission, Grandmother begins to unravel.
“Her hair became as tangled as the vines on her fence. Her garden fell into disrepair. One morning, she did not rake the path.”
A dear friend, the passage of seasons, and a gift only nature can offer help Grandmother Thorn discover that some things are beyond our control, and that sweetness can blossom in unexpected places.
Rebecca Hahn’s detailed multimedia illustrations capture the intricate beauty of nature and bring the rural Japanese village and its inhabitants to life in this folktale style story by debut author Katey Howes.
To download an Educator's Guide for Grandmother Thorn, click here.
About the Author/Illustrator
Katey Howes loves connecting kids with the natural world through exploration, art, and science. On weekends, you might find her camping with her Brownie troop, curled up under a blanket with a stack of books, or discovering a new museum with her husband and three daughters. After ten years as a physical therapist, Katey now writes full time from her cluttered basement office. Grandmother Thorn is her first picture book, inspired by an epic battle with an unruly raspberry bush. You can connect with Katey online at kateyhowes.com or follow her on Twitter @kateywrites.
Rebecca Hahn lives in a skinny blue house in Portland Oregon with her husband, son, and one lonely gerbil (it’s a long story). Each page of this book was meticulously painted, sewn and crafted by hand. Rebecca’s artwork has appeared in numerous shows and publications around the world. Visit her online at www.rebeccahahn.com
Anna Dewdney Read Together Award Honor
Grandmother Thorn received the 2018 Anna Dewdney Read Together Award Honor.
Reviews and More
From Happily Ever Elephants, October 17, 2017:
Accepting imperfection is not an easy task for many adults, much less many children. Flexibility, too, is something that so many of us struggle with. Learning to let go, to embrace the flaws and blemishes that inevitability mar our daily lives, can be a fearful journey, one that must come from deep within ourselves before we can learn to appreciate the sweet in the seemingly sour. Perhaps this is the reason why we so love Grandmother Thorn, the beautiful debut picture book by Katey Howes, with gorgeous, multimedia illustrations by Rebecca Hahn.
The titular character, Grandmother Thorn, treasures her beautiful garden- it is pristine and perfect, with not a twig out of place. But when an unwanted plant begins to sprout without her permission, Grandmother Thorn begins to break down. With the help of a dear friend and the passage of time, Grandmother Thorn may just learn that some things in life are beyond anyone's control- and that life's greatest disappointments can also give rise to the greatest gifts.
What a gem this book is. Grandmother Thorn powerfully conveys the message that beauty can be found where we least expect it-- or want it-- when we learn to let go of our stubborn ways. The story reads as if it's a time-tested classic or an age-old folk tale, with rich characters, lush prose and not a word out of place. This is an especially fabulous story for upper elementary and middle school students- sparking important discussions on the meaning of perfection, friendship and embracing fear. A gorgeous debut -- two trunks up!
Excerpt from Design of the Picture Book, August 29, 2017:
One of the best parts of the book world is its people, and the joy of celebrating their books’ entrance to the world. The author of this book, Katey Howes, has been a friend for a long while, and we’ve both been fans of Rebecca’s work. I had some questions for them both.
When, how, or why did you get into picture books?
As an artist, I have always had a few lofty goals – as most artists do. The ultimate achievements so to say. One of those has been to illustrate a children’s book, I just didn’t know when or how this would ever happen.
A few years after working as a Character Artist with Disney, I got the opportunity to freelance with Random House Publishing illustrating a few of the Pooh Adorable’s board books. It wasn’t using my own style but I still jumped at the chance. I had to match the Pooh Adorable’s books already published and of course be on model with the Pooh Characters, but it was still a really fun experience. It was nice to work on a job that didn’t have a super quick turn around and longer lasting power than magazine illustrations. The Pooh Adorable’s books ran through their ideas after 5 books with me and the project was completed.
After working on the Pooh books, I continued to freelance, dipped my toe into making merchandise and moved on to showing my personal artwork in galleries. (Another of my lofty goals.) It wasn’t until a few years after my son was born that I was introduced to Ripple Grove Press and given the chance to illustrate a book with my own imagery and style.
How did Grandmother Thorn come to you as a manuscript, and what were your first thoughts about the text?
My husband works for Laika and had heard that RPG was looking for an illustrator through the grapevine and the rest is history. Lucky for me, It was the right time and the right fit.
I thought Grandmother Thorn was a mature story, but that younger kids could still connect to the struggles of perfectionism and control. These issue seem to be important lessons through all of life’s phases! I could also relate to those struggles personally and I felt a deep connection to Grandmother Thorn in this way. ...
Read more and see the amazing process shots here.
Excerpt from Librarian's Quest, August 29, 2017:
When you've grown up hearing anything worth doing is worth doing right it's hard not to strive toward perfection. You complete tasks over and over and over again, working toward the best possible outcome. There will come a time, hopefully sooner than later, when golden moments happen. In these instances it will dawn on you, whether it was planned or not, that you are standing in the midst of perfection.
For some the aim for perfection in one or more aspects of their lives becomes all-consuming. In her debut title, Grandmother Thorn (Ripple Grove Press, August 29, 2017), Katey Howes addresses this desire for flawlessness. Her wise, warm, and original tale is enhanced through the art of Rebecca Hahn.
Day after day this woman worked in her gardens creating a visual masterpiece. Everything had a place and Grandmother Thorn made sure it remained. She tirelessly raked her paths in swirls, imitating the flow of water in a silent stream.
Grandmother Thorn valued peace and quiet and a supreme sense of order in her garden. If it was disturbed you could hear her voice rise in anger. The only person never to receive rebuke from her was her elderly friend, Ojiisan.
Regardless of the fact his body caused him to carry one shoulder lower and drag one foot as he walked, she only had a smile for this kind man. He often brought her sweet treats. After they spent time in quiet contentment in her garden, she re-raked her paths as he left.
During a particularly hot summer day, a traveling seller paused in the village. Ojiisan was thrilled with the taste of one particular item, insisting the last basket be taken to Grandmother Thorn. He did issue a warning for the young man to stand at her gate and not enter the garden.
The warning was ignored with disastrous results. Grandmother Thorn raced one way and the vendor raced the other way leaving the fruit scattered. This woman with meticulous intentions missed something.
Seasons passed and with them a struggle ensued between Grandmother Thorn and a strange prickly vine. It diminished her spirit. The return of spring revealed the work of a beloved friend and the marvelous resilience of a member of Mother Nature's family.
There are books you read when the connection is immediate. You know an author has put their heart on the pages. This is one of those books.
Katey Howes supplies us with intimate knowledge of Grandmother Thorn's personality. This is a wonderful piece of storytelling leading us to the friendship with Ojiisan and to the assault on the seedling she did not plant. In these contrasts Grandmother Thorn and readers can see the value in shifting perspective.
The dialogue woven into the narrative brings us deeper into its meaning. We get a true sense of the bond growing between Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan. Here is a sample passage.
A week later, Ojiisan spotted his friend crouched in the same place.
"I must not have removed the entire root," she said, digging up the offending vine.
"I will certainly get it this time."
Each time Ojiisan visited, he found Grandmother Thorn more consumed by her battle
with the stubborn sprout. He began to worry. ...
Read the full post here.
From School Library Journal, Summer 2017:
In this parable like story, nothing disturbs Grandmother Thorn’s well-tended garden. With eyes narrowed and sharply etched frown lines, she maintains every leaf and pebble in its proper place. Grandmother Thorn values tidiness and symmetry above all else, ripping out weeds and chasing away birds with her gravelly voice and rake raised high. The only crack in her well-ordered life is her friendship with Ojiisan (“grandfather” in Japanese), who walks with a slow, shuffling gait and provides her with sweets and good conversation. Knowing her fondness for sweets, he send s a berry peddler her way, but Grandmother Thorn chases him away when he breaks off one of her blooms. One stray berry takes root in the garden, and though Grandmother Thorn battles the stubborn off-shoot, it reappears each day. The woman falls ill, and in her absence, Ojiisan tends the garden. When she returns, the berry plant sports colorful fruit, and birds, squirrels, and bunnies have moved in. Grandmother Thorn has a change of heart. Hahn’s impressive eye-catching illustrations with intricate designs and shapes dominated by strong lines give the pictures a layered look. Intriguing sewn and painted patterns and details enhance the story, with its Japanese setting and phrases.
VERDICT This well-crafted take offers a gentle lesson of stewardship and living in peace with nature. Teachers and parents will appreciate its story, and readers of all ages will delight in its appealing design. -Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
From Midwest Book Review, June 2017:
Grandmother Thorn treasures her garden, where not a leaf, twig or pebble is allowed out of place. But when a persistent plant sprouts without her permission, Grandmother begins to unravel. "Her hair became as tangled as the vines on her fence. Her garden fell into disrepair. One morning, she did not rake the path." A dear friend, the passage of seasons, and a gift only nature can offer help Grandmother Thorn discover that some things are beyond our control, and that sweetness can blossom in unexpected places. Beautifully illustrated with the distinctive artwork of Rebecca Hahn, "Grandmother Thorn" is an impressively original picture book story by Katey Howes that is especially commended for children ages 5 to 7 -- and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections.
From Publishers Weekly, June 13, 2017:
An elderly woman who rules her garden with an iron fist (“Every leaf, every pebble had its place”) learns to be a bit more flexible in Howes’s thoughtful first children’s book. Grandmother Thorn is so committed to the clean paths and symmetrical arrangements of her property that she chases away birds (and people) who threaten to disrupt it. The sole exception: her longtime friend Ojiisan. “My friend, have you considered that everything on earth sooner or later meets its match?” he asks as she wrestles with an errant berry vine. “Excellent point, Ojiisan,” she retorts. “Perhaps you might explain it to the plant.” Though the setting isn’t explicitly defined, Howes’s story is ostensibly set in Japan, and newcomer Hahn’s collaged landscapes, which incorporate stitched and pale fabric elements, have a crisp precision that prickly Grandmother Thorn would herself appreciate. The battle with the berry vine lays the matriarch low for a season, but spring brings a fresh attitude, including a new, romantic perspective on Ojiisan. It’s a quiet, visually arresting reminder that compromise has its benefits.
From Kirkus Reviews, May 24, 2017:
Grandmother Thorn has spent years perfecting her beloved garden, but a new plant, a gift from a friend, threatens its harmony.
Grandmother Thorn lives alone in Shizuka Village, apparently in Japan. Every day she meticulously cares for her garden and its pebbled paths, shunning visitors and shooing birds away from her trees. Neighbors fear her, but she always shows kindness to her old friend, Ojiisan, despite the fact that his crooked foot disrupts her precious paths. When a merchant brings an unusual type of berry to market, Ojiisan pays the merchant to take some to Grandmother Thorn. The merchant unwisely picks one perfect flower. Enraged, Grandmother Thorn chases him away and he drops the berries—one of which soon sprouts into a renegade plant. Her intense anger at this makes her so sick she must stay at the home of her niece until the following spring. When Ojiisan goes to walk her home, he gives her a box of berries. They are delicious—the fruit of the persistent weed. Grandmother Thorn understands that she has finally found something as stubborn as herself. Although Howes’ protagonist learns a good lesson, she is not particularly likable to that point, and the stern faces of Hahn’s characters could be disconcerting to the book’s young audience. Her pattern-filled, hand-collage illustrations incorporate fabric, wood, and paint, their thick outlines and stable compositions imparting a sense of peace to Grandmother Thorn’s garden.
Lovely—but it requires patience, just like its protagonist.