“sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to…”
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (also the writer of Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Arrival), is a picture book that has the potential to catch the attention of a wide range of readers, regardless of age.
Opening the book and seeing the gray background and a single leaf of a similar colour suggests the book is going to be about something dark and depressing. Such suspicions are confirmed when we see a small girl in her bedroom with black leaves falling from the ceiling, and her seemingly aimless wandering in the next few pages. In one picture, a monstrous fish clouds over her. In another, we see her behind locked glass windows looking at great and wonderful things flying past. The girl searches for answers but it seems as if all hope is gone. She waits and wonders what her purpose in the world is, and what she is supposed to do. After a day of such trials, she returns to her room where a scrap of colour — a small red leaf sprouting from the floor — is waiting for her. Soon enough, a bright red tree, a symbol of hope, full of comforting light, grows and spreads out.
On the journey to discovering who or what we mean in the world, sometimes it is hard to find evidence to support hope. This story beautifully captures these hard to express feelings. Life can be tough: people seem to be too busy, we feel like we are not heard, and while we may continue to wait and wait, great things seem to pass us by. Closing the book, we notice that the endpaper that was gray in the beginning of the book is now red. The book reminds us that thankfully, even after the worst of days, we can take comfort in the knowledge that dullness will pass and hope will once again be present.
See a YouTube video version of The Red Tree: