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The Red Tree


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About the Author

Shaun Tan has an outstanding reputation for his illustrative work. He won the Spectrum Gold Award for Book Illustration 2000 and also the Crichton Award (The Viewer) in 1995. The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, was named CBCA Book of the Year and received the Aurealis Governor's Award in 1999; and Memorial, written by Gary Crew, was a CBCA Honour Book and also won an APA Design Award in 2000. He wrote and illustrated The Lost Thing, published in 2000. He has been a leading science-fiction illustrator in Australia for several years; with recognition including the illustrators of the Future Award 1991 and the Australian National Science Fiction Best Artist Award 1995, 1996. The Red Tree is his fifth picture book.


Strange, melancholy imagery and pessimistic forecasts ("sometimes the day begins/ with nothing to look forward to") weigh like millstones on this slender book, but the appearance of a stunning "red tree" lifts the burden in the end. The focus is a listless girl in a wine-colored robe, who gets out of bed amid a surreal flurry of dry black leaves. In one nightmarish spread, the auburn-haired child trudges along a sepia city street under the oppressive shadow of a huge, cold and greenish fish head ("darkness/ overcomes you"). Elsewhere, she peers out a padlocked window, while the glass reflects a sunny sky and a papery flying machine trailing confetti ("wonderful things are passing you by"). Yet reason for hope may be found in each bleak portrait. In every frame, a tiny but brilliant red maple leaf lies in a gutter, swirls along a gray sidewalk or rests on a humped, ferrous-orange hill that looks like an H.P. Lovecraft landscape. When the girl returns home, she sees a delicate red sprout growing out of her floor ("but suddenly there it is/ right in front of you/ bright and vivid/ quietly waiting"), and on the final page, she lifts her head and smiles up at a glorious flame-red tree, in the shape of a dandelion puff ("just as you imagined it would be"). Although the glum phrases are cliches of depression, Tan's (The Lost Thing) intricate paintings marvelously evoke emotional states, and the red leaf serves as a reminder that creativity can emerge despite abject conditions. Those of artistic temperament may well thrill to Tan's revelatory outcome. Ages 7-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

Gr 3 Up-An astonishing fable in picture-book format. A girl moving through landscapes of hopelessness and isolation encounters an image of hope on the book's final page. Through the weight of her sorrow, readers conclude, on both intellectual and emotional levels, that living in despair is waiting for hope. Tan's sophisticated mixed-media illustrations include fantasy and dream elements, and subtle symbolism packed together with an array of art techniques ranging from complicated cut-paper collages to Drescher-like paintings, but serious. These complex pictures send visual impressions powerful enough to cause readers to gasp as a new page is revealed. The simple, direct text ("darkness overcomes you" or "sometimes you just don't know what you are supposed to do"), often poetic ("the world is a deaf machine"), serves both as an entryway into the complicated illustrations, and as an enhancement to them. Perhaps too sophisticated in its point of view for some youngsters, this is nonetheless a book of amazing beauty, high quality, and distinguished artistry.-Liza Graybill, Worcester Public Library, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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