It Used to be Green Once by Patricia Grace

photo by johnwayne2006 (flickr, creative commons)


It Used to be Green Once – Theme, Plot, Setting (doc)



What happens in the story is called the plot. Sometimes the plot is called the ‘story line’.

Here is a summary of what happens in the story. Copy it out and put a word in each blank so that the summary makes sense:

The children felt ashamed of their mother because she made them make use things that other people didn’t want. She made them wear __________________ that didn’t fit and they had to take __________ fruit for lunch. They always felt embarassed in front of other people.

Uncle Raz gave them an old ___________ he didn’t want. It could no longer be used in ___________. It had only patches of ____________ paint left on it, no_________ and no top. The kids called it a ____________.

They used the car to take the _____________ to the farm gate and Mum used it to go to __________. Every Wednesday she put on her best clothes and head off to do the shopping. She _____________ to let everyone know she was coming. People had to run alongside and shout their orders because she couldn’t __________.

Mum crammed the car with shopping and _____________ it out to people on her way back. Sometimes she met the school bus on the bridge and it had to give way to her. Once she gave the ____________ a ride. The children felt full of ________________.

One day _____________ changed. Dad won $50 000 in the ______________. Dad got a new _________, the children got ________________ and _______________. They went to the pictures every _______________. Mum got a new ____________. It was a _____________ and it was ______________. She treated it just like the old one though. She still loaded it up with people and _______________. She even tied things on the roof. Eventually it looked like the old car. Most of the paint was worn off but in places you could still see that it used to be __________ once.



Most of the characters in It Used to be Green Once belong to one family. Someone in this family is telling a story about her childhood.  Patricia Grace starts the story with:

‘We were all ashamed of our mother.’

When the writer says ‘we’, who is she writing about?


Most stories have two types of characters. There are main characters and minor characters.

The main characters are the most important people in the story. They are also the people we learn most about.

Minor characters are the other people in the story. They add to what happens, but the story doesn’t depend on them.

In It Used to be Green Once, Dad is a minor character.

Patricia Grace gives us some information about Dad, but does not go into a lot of detail. Dad is in the story, but the story isn’t about him.

The main character in It Used to be Green Once is Mum. As the story goes on, we learn a lot about her – what she does, what she says, how she acts and even what she wears. All this adds up to letting us know what sort of person she is.



Setting means both when and where.


You already know that the writer of the story is telling a story from her childhood. Patricia Grace mentions several things that tell us that the story is set in the past. Some of the words are different or name objects that don’t get used these days.

  • Make a list of as many words like this that you can find. Write a definition for each or say what has replaced it.
  • List ten items that the family did not buy when they won the lottery because they had not yet been invented.


There are several clues that tell us that the story is set in New Zealand.

  • Find some evidence that this is a New Zealand story.

There are some definite landmarks in the story.

  • List some of the places that are mentioned in the story.



There is more to the story It Used to be Green Once than the characters and the setting.  The writer is doing more than just telling a story about her childhood. Write a few lines about the messages this story had for you.

It Used to be Green Once begins ‘We were all ashamed of our mother’.  The idea of being shamed comes up several times in the story. List four things Mum did that shamed the kids.

Times change, and as we get older our feelings change too.  Patricia Grace seems to be laughing at herself and the things that worried her when she was young.

When she was a child, she felt her mother was shaming her on purposes. How do you think the writer, now she is an adult, feels about her mother?

Mum lived on a farm with her husband and fourteen children.  She probably didn’t have time to worry about what other people thought of her and the way she acted.  She was who she was, and got on with her busy life.

The writer thought taking holey fruit to school was embarrassing especially when Reweti said “Hey you fullas.  Who shot your pears?” Write what Mum might have said back to Reweti.

Life changed overnight for the children when Dad won the lottery. ‘But Mum and Dad didn’t change.  They were the same as always.’ What message do you think Patricia Grace is giving us here?

The first car had once been red, but by the time Mum was driving it to the shop, it only had patches of red paint left. Having a big shiny green Chevrolet didn’t change Mum at all.

Read the last paragraph again:

‘There were always ropes everywhere over Mum’s new car holding bags and things and shovel handles to the roof and sides.  The boot was always hanging open because it was too full to close – things used to drop out on to the road all the time. And the new car – it used to be green once, because if you look closely you can still see some patches of green paint here and there.’

The title of the story comes from this paragraph. What does the title of the story mean to you?

Patricia Grace uses Mum’s actions to put across the themes of the story. The kids are shamed by their mother’s behaviour. What do you think she would have said to them when they:

  • Complained about holey fruit
  • Complained about their togs
  • Complained about her filling up the car with other people’s shopping
  • Complained about her tying stuff all over the new car
  • Complained that she didn’t smarten up when she won the money

When they won the money “Mum and Dad didn’t change. They were the same as always.”

  • What message do you think that Patricia Grace is giving us here?

Values are things that you consider to be really important in how you behave.

  • What values did Mum have that didn’t change when they won the lottery.?

Communities depend on people like Mum to help out people who need a hand.

  • Why was Mum a really important person in her community?

Most readers enjoy this story because it is humorous and it makes us think of times when our own parents have embarrassed us.

  • Briefly write about a time when someone in your family made you feel whakama.

Most readers also feel that this story has a strong message about what is really important in life – what our values are.

  • Briefly write what this story help you to understand about people.

For more on the writing of Patricia Grace, see here.

9 thoughts on “It Used to be Green Once by Patricia Grace

  1. Thank you so much for this lesson plan. I am using parts of it with my Year 10 English classes. It has made me think outside the square on a number of things I had not considered

    • At first I thought this was a bizarre question to ask, but now that I’ve tried googling it myself, I see what you mean. Publishers would do themselves a favour by advertising which short stories are included in which collection.

      I can’t remember which of Patricia Grace’s short story collections this story is in, but I’d ask your local librarian.

      University libraries (assuming you’re in NZ) should have all of her work in their New Zealand literature collection.

      Anyway, if I had no luck at the library I’d buy ‘Collected Stories: Patricia Grace’ which is no doubt a good read even if it doesn’t include this story (which I’m pretty sure it would). Here in Australia the cheapest place to buy that book from is Fishpond, for $AU20.12 new.

      That price is from, which you should definitely make use of if you’re an Australian resident. I’m not sure if there’s a New Zealand equivalent of that site, but if anyone knows of a web engine which lets Kiwis compare book prices in the same way as you can compare flights, then do let me know.

  2. Thankyou SO much for this! Am going to do a literature study this year with my bilingual year 10 class on Patricia Grace and this is fabulous. Thankyou so much. I also loved your document on docstore – thanks again, you’re a legend.

    • You’re very welcome. I hope your class enjoys it!

      I will just say for the record that it wasn’t me who put this document at that site or at any other. Someone else did that without my permission. If that person ever finds their way back here, I’d like them to know that this was extremely unappreciated.

      Best wishes, Lynley.

  3. I cant understand what theme is…I Think one of theme is Money must not change people
    and… I need 3 themes includ i written theme

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