Good morning/afternoon everyone, so the picture book which I analysed is called The Red Tree and was written by Shaun Tan.
I’ll begin by outlining the story…
So, the story begins with a nameless, unhappy girl whose day starts with nothing to look forward to. The story follows her as she ‘wonders through a series of disconnected landscapes’.
Throughout her journey, she encounters a dark stage of her life where she feels there is nothing to look forward to. At this point we can see that the illustrations are also composed of darker and gloomier colours.
In the next few images I think the colour scheme becomes a little brighter and definitely more colourful as we see her watching wonderful things pass by. I also think that in these images we can see her gathering more hope and optimism that good things will come.
By the end we see her smiling up at a bright orange tree which represents her hope and how it has grown.
Purpose and messages
I think this story conveys many meanings. But first I’m going to talk about the purpose of the book.
The purpose of this picture book is that it shows us the truth behind dealing with depression, which is a sensitive topic not many children’s picture books focus on. It also shows us many of our bizarre and unexplainable emotions.
There are many different messages and meanings from the book
Throughout the book the theme of hope is depicted as a bright red leaf which can be found on every page. This is usually hidden away from the character’s sight but seen by the reader if you look carefully. This meant that she didn’t have any hope and she was only able to see the leaf at the end when her hope had grown into a noticeable bright tree.
The language used in this book is very minimal and there are only fewer words used on each page. This is because the author’s aim is to capture the reader’s attention with the extraordinary and detailed illustrations. Therefore the mood or tone is also mostly set by the illustrations, although the depressing and meaningful quotes on each page do make the story very emotional.
Something I noticed as well is that Shaun Tan has used ‘you’ to start quite a few sentences and also just when refering to emotions we feel. This allows the reader to relate to the feelings and experiences Shaun writes about, it also allows us to connect with the character.
Another technique I found in the book is that he used bigger fonts for the words which are more meaningful and coordinate more affectively with the image. For e.g. here the font is bigger on the word ‘darker’.
Overall, I think the main purpose of the words or the language is to furthermore explain the emotion of the character, add meaning to the images and set a mood for the reader.
I think this book is suitable for a wide range of audiences, but different age groups will probably find different meanings or understandings and take different messages from the story. I think it would be a descriptive and simple story for younger audiences, yet a more intricate and morally challenging themed story for older audiences.
I also think that all age groups will enjoy this book because a younger audiences attention will be captured by the amazing illustrations and the small details on the page, whereas older audiences and adults will enjoy finding the hidden messages of the story.
Showing a page of the picture book
It was very hard to choose only one page to showcase because every page has a unique image and a deep meaning. In addition each of these pages used different techniques such as colour, the use of space and size.
The page I ended up choosing was this one, with the words being ‘Wonderful things are passing you by’.
The first thing my eyes were drawn too or in other words the salient image is this very colourful area of the page. As we can see this represents the ‘Wonderful things passing by’. The use of colour in this image makes us believe that it is very happy.
Therefore, a noticeable technique Shaun has used to capture the reader’s attention is the extraordinary use of colour. We see many bright and beautiful colours, but if we look around the colourfulness we can also see some darker colours as well which mainly surround the girl and show us that these wonderful things are not happening to her or that she doesn’t recognise the wonderful things she has.
The girl is also not in the foreground of the image, but she remains a faded part of what seems to be a less prominent section of the page.
Another small detail I noticed was the bright image of ‘wonderful things’ is framed and locked by a lock which has written on it in small letters ‘regret’. I think this means that she regrets the fact she cannot access the life she wishes to have and that it is locked and there is no key in reach means that she can’t change the decisions which have led her to this life.
Overall, this image has shown us a number of techniques Shaun Tan has used to communicate with the reader in a visual way and show a deep message.
The red tree is linked to the theme of Identity because the whole story is about self-discovery and about how a young girl is questioning her identity and her place in the world.
The book poses questions like;
That we don’t know what we are supposed to do? Or who we are meant to be? Or where we are?
This is linked to identity because it’s the answers to these questions that make up quite a bit of who we are.
There are also internal and external forces in the book which the author uses to present the girl’s identity and her struggles with it.
An example of an internal force is shown on this page where she is drawing an image of herself which is incomplete showing she doesn’t know precisely who she is.
The whole book consists of pages which represent different but mainly depressing emotions, this shows us the internal part of her identity and that she is at quite an unstable part of her life.
The external forces in the book that are shaping her identity include the way she looks and
“In conclusion Shaun Tan uses minimal language and intricately detailed images to create an engaging picture book. The way the narrative explores challenging and sensitive topics is different to any other picture book I’ve read.”