Shaun Tan, Author . Simply Read $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-9688768-3-1

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 clichés 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.)

Reviewed on: 01/27/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Children's
Hardcover - 1 pages - 978-0-7344-0172-4
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