CM . . .
. Volume X Number 18 . . . . May 7, 2004
A single brown leaf on molted grey end papers at the front of the book sets the tone for this intriguing and thought-provoking picture book. On the frontispiece, the orangey-red haired girl, who appears throughout the book, is depicted standing on a stool in a field with letters spewing from a megaphone that is raised to her mouth. Is anyone listening?
On the first recto of the story, readers view the girl awakening to brown leaves descending into her bedroom. However, in a framed picture on the wall behind the girl is a single red leaf. The text reads, "sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to." In the next recto, the girl's room is nearly half full of brown leaves, and she exits. Readers follow the girl's journey as she wanders through imaginary and dreamlike landscapes that depict hopelessness and isolation. The girl is overwhelmed by feelings of despair and melancholy. The minimal text on each page conveys feelings and thoughts that accompany depression. The simple and poetic text also communicates sophisticated themes such as search for identity, overload of information, pressure to conform, and lack of control of one's destiny.
When the girl returns to her bedroom at the end of the day, the red leaf no longer appears in the framed picture--it is on the floor and is "quietly waiting" for her. When readers turn the page, the red leaf has blossomed into a red tree, full of light and hope. The girl smiles, and readers are reminded of the power of renewal and encouragement.
The red leaf in each of Tan's mixed-media visual composition is allegorical as it represents hope, even in the darkest moments of despair and loneliness. The intricate detail in Tan's collage-like illustrations is fascinating and demands close scrutiny and multiple viewings as much of the artwork in the book encapsulate subtle symbolism. Tan also uses colour to convey meaning in the final end papers--red and dark brown create a marbled appearance, but red is the predominating colour.
The Red Tree is a fascinating and sophisticated picture book about a sensitive issue that is often ignored in children's literature.
Sylvia Pantaleo is an Associate Professor of Language Arts in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.