Shaun Tan is the Australian author and illustrator whose work I fell in love with at first sight. It was the sight of “The Red Tree”. The book has received an honourable mention at the CBCA Book of the Year Awards in 2001, won the Patricia Wrightson prize in the NSW Premier’s Book Awards, and was awarded the ‘le Prix Octogones 2003’ prize by the Centre International d’Etudes en Litterature de Jeunesse, following it’s translation into French. Shaun Tan himself was the 2011 winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (the biggest prize in literature world), at the time being only the second Australian to have received it since the Award has been established.
Few potent words and spreads of intriguing pictures, I picked it up at random from a bookstore shelf and having read it knew in an instant that it can’t go back on that shelf. As many other Shaun Tan creations (think “The Arrival”, “The Lost Thing”, “Tales from Outer Suburbia”) this book strikes as not quite the one for young kids, perhaps more geared towards awakening the child inside us adults.
Main character is a little girl. The story depicts one day of her life, a day of making sense of seemingly unfriendly, somewhat eerie and alienating world around her. The morning is a bleak one, the day goes on from bad to worse till finally it comes to a startling change: to a clear vision of hope and a beautiful new beginning.
Don’t we all know how sometimes it feels that “nobody understands”, that the world is “without sense or reason”, that we “wait and wait and wait, but nothing ever happens” (mid-life crisis anyone?)… It is all too easy to loose sight of hope. But hope is there, it is “just as you imagined it would be” and “The Red Tree” drives this point home in a bold and beautiful visual way:
Talking about creation of “The Red Tree” Shaun Tan writes of his fascination with “word-picture enigmas” with no traditional narrative. This lack of sequential narrative is “something a picture book is ideal for”, he notes, “you can open it at any page, go backwards or forwards, and spend as much time as you wish with each image.”¹
If you have not yet discovered the power of Shaun Tan’s creativity, “The Red Tree” might be a great start.
For other reviews of fabulous Shaun Tan books click here.