If you have not heard of Shaun Tan before then run out and buy all his books at once. He has to be one of my favourite children's author/illustrators ever. His books are totally different to any pictures books you will have read before, they are dark and provocative with a truly distinctive voice and unique perspective.
Shaun Tan is an Australian author/illustrator who has written a number of award-winning picture books. I love so many of his books and I really cannot recommend his work enough. His illustrations are strange and magical, and his writing explores complex and pertinent issues in a sensitive and poignant way.
'The Red Tree' was written in 2001 and follows the journey of a sad and lonely red-headed girl through a fragmented and ominous looking world. When she awakes in the morning, at the beginning of the story, she is confronted by black leaves falling from the ceiling of her room. Sadness is clearly overwhelming the young girl and the first line reads: 'Sometimes you wake up with nothing to look forward to...'.
She wanders through a confusing and alienating world it is clear to the reader that her feelings are complex and at times puzzling, even to herself. In each picture the smallest of red leaves peppers the page, almost inconceivable in size but indicating just the smallest essence of hope which remains. Just as despair seems to take hold she returns to her small and solitary bedroom. Opening the door she discovers a small red tree has grown and fills the room with its warmth and light.
The message is hopeful and one which cannot be exclusively expressed in words. The images tell half the story and the imaginary landscapes are simply breathtaking. I suppose ultimately the story serves as a sort of fable in which we are reminded that human experiences good and bad are always tempered by hope.
The book cost me £7.99 and is simply astounding. Read it alone and consider the permanence and poignancy of the story. Read it with children and invite them to reveal their own interesting and unique perspectives on the message it shares. Pass it on to your friends, as I have done, and bask in a mutual love of this incredible children's author and illustrator.
I absolutely love this book and could talk for hours about the way it speaks to me and the place it has in my heart - but it's important that you judge it for yourself and fall in love with it on your own.