In "Shades of Gray" by Carolyn Reeder, Will's button collection represents his past. The buttons were found on the battlefield near his home. He found them with his brother who is no longer living. In fact, Will lost all of his family during the Civil War from either sickness or battle. He has come to live with his aunt and uncle. The buttons symbolize his family who is no longer with him. Additionally, since his family was so very patriotic and served so bravely during the war, the buttons represent the honor Will feels his family earned. This is important because his uncle did not participate on either side during the war. Will has learned what all the various symbols on the buttons stand for and shares this information with his cousins. When they eagerly ask about the buttons, Will shares the information about them and this symbolizes his sharing his family with them.