Adolescence book review: “The Red Tree”

The Red Tree book coverTan, S. (2001). The Red Tree. Port Melbourne, Vic: Lothian Books.
[sophisticated picture book]

At 32 pages, this is the length of a standard picture book, however The Red Tree comes underneath the genre of “sophisticated picture book” a subset of picture books, appropriate for older readers.

The Red Tree has many characteristics of a sophisticated picture book such as, “layered and subtle meaning, mature themes, open-ended conclusions and visually complex illustrations” (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2011, p. 25), that undeniably convey symbolism.  The subject (successfully) conveyed here is depression.  A worthy topic for an adolescent reader.

The Red Tree showcases Tan’s artistic talent with the paint brush, with each page a painting of the protaganist itself, but collectively and successfully illustrating a story of one girls’ experience of depression.

…then all your troubles come at once
Tan, S. (2001). The Red Tree. Port Melbourne, Vic: Lothian Books.

This text appears on a page within a painted illustration of the red-headed protagonist in a tiny red boat with a feeble pink sail amongst a sea of large grey steel, metal and iron ships with violent waves swirling all around.
Hard to describe the effect of the combination of the images and text on your consciousness without providing the visual product, I would say that this book hits the mark with it’s emotive and illustrative description of depression on oneself.

Choosing the central character to have red hair to show vitality, spirit and also isolation in a colourless world, illustrates to the reader that the author clearly understands the subject of depression and how to convey it to a young adult audience.

Shaun Tan is an Australian illustrator and author who has recently won a prestigious award for children’s literature, “Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which is named after the Swedish creator of Pippi Longstocking.  The prize amounts to 5 million kroner ($765,000), making it the world’s richest for the genre.” (ABC News, 2011 March 30.)


ABC News. (2011, March 30). Australian illustrator wins children’s book award. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, (2011). Children and young people – developmental stages, literacy and literature. In 72276 Literature and Information Resources for Children and Young People. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.

Tan, S. (2001). The Red Tree. Port Melbourne, Vic: Lothian Books.

1 thought on “Adolescence book review: “The Red Tree””

  1. Great review – strong subject matter for a picture book.

    Some other interesting resources you may be interested in: Teaching through texts. Particularly Chapter 7, metafictive picture-books and sophisticated readers by Rabey. Right book right time, particularly section “Pictures tell stories too” by Hunter, p. 314. talking about teenagers and picture books.

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