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y separately published work icon The Red Tree single work   picture book   children's  
Issue Details: First known date: 2001... 2001 The Red Tree
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'The Red Tree is a story without any particular narrative; a series of distinct imaginary worlds as self-contained images which invite readers to draw their own meaning in the absence of any written explanation. As a concept, the book is inspired by the impulse of children and adults alike to describe feelings using metaphor - monsters, storms, sunshine, rainbows and so on ... A nameless young girl appears in every picture, a stand-in for ourselves; she passes helplessly through many dark moments, yet ultimately finds something hopeful at the end of her journey.' (Source: Author's website)


The Red Tree Susan Richer , Janis Balodis , 2004 single work drama children's The Red Tree explores the concept of hope and follows a child's incredible journey through a day of ups and downs.
The Red Tree Shaun Tan , Michael Yezerski (composer), 2008 single work musical theatre 'Music and imagery tell the thought-provoking tale of The Red Tree, inspired by the popular book of award-winning Australian author and artist Shaun Tan. In an extraordinary collaboration, this new work will be created by rising star composer Michael Yezerski with Richard Tognetti and the remarkable young singers of Gondwana Voices. Two deeply moving works of art combine in one incredible experience when Shostakovich's final string quartet accompanies illustrations from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, the story of a displaced person's journey to a new life told entirely through illustration.' Source: (Sighted 28/07/2008).
The Red Tree Gypsy Taylor , John Sheedy , 2012 single work drama children's
The Red Tree Hilary Bell , Greta Gertler Gold (composer), 2017 single work musical theatre children's

'When the dice is always loaded against you how do you move forward?

'Join us for an extraordinary journey to a world of imagination where origami boats take you on an ocean voyage, giant fish host musical interludes, and parades pass you by. This is the story of a young girl living inside her bedroom and how she conquers her fears and anxieties, finally embracing hope and taking control of the world that has always been around her.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Reading Australia

Reading Australia

This work has Reading Australia teaching resources.

Unit Suitable For

AC: Year 5 and Year 6 (NSW Stage 3)

Picture books have traditionally been seen as part of the early years of primary school. They are often used to engage and support young readers as they are learning to read. Many contemporary picture books are, however, multilayered and are often appropriate for different ages. This unit of work aims to stretch and develop the traditional concept so that, depending on the author, illustrator and complexity of themes, picture books can be for everyone.

A small child awakes to find blackened leaves falling from her bedroom ceiling, threatening to quietly overwhelm her. ‘Sometimes you wake up with nothing to look forward to …’ As she wanders around a world that is complex, puzzling and alienating, she is overtaken by a myriad of feelings. Just as it seems all hope is lost, the girl returns to her bedroom to find that a tiny red seedling has grown to fill the room with warm light. Shaun Tan’s latest creation, The Red Tree, is a book about feelings – feelings that can not always be simply expressed in words. It is a series of imaginary landscapes conjured up by the wizardry of Shaun Tan’s masterful and miraculous art. As a kind of fable, The Red Tree seeks to remind us that, though some bad feelings are inevitable, they are always tempered by hope.

Source: Publication Synopsis Reading Australia

Teaching Resources

Teaching Resources

This work has teaching resources.

Teaching notes from publisher's website.


  • For children 6 years and over.
  • Dedication: for Inari
  • Images from The Red Tree were used in 2008 by the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) in their performance 'The Red Tree'. The ACO's performance combined musical composition by Michael Yezerski with projected images from Shaun's Tan picture book.
  • Included in the 2003 White Ravens Catalogue compiled by the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany. Special mention; easily inderstandable.
  • This is affiliated with Dr Laurel Cohn's Picture Book Diet because it contains representations of food and/or food practices.

    Food depiction
    • Incidental
    Food types
    • Everyday drinks
    Food practices n/a
    Gender n/a
    Signage n/a
    Positive/negative value n/a
    Food as sense of place
    • Domestic
    • Domestic interior
    Food as social cohesion n/a
    Food as cultural identity
    • White Australian characters
    Food as character identity n/a
    Food as language n/a

Affiliation Notes

  • This work is affiliated with the AustLit subset Asian-Australian Children's Literature and Publishing because it has Chinese and Japanese translations.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

    • Port Melbourne, South Melbourne - Port Melbourne area, Melbourne - Inner South, Melbourne, Victoria,: Lothian , 2001 .
      image of person or book cover 5339801683770395779.jpg
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 1v. (unpaged)p.
      Description: col. illus.
      Reprinted: 2001 , 2002 , 2003 , 2004 , 2005 , 2006 , 2008 , 2011
      ISBN: 0734405391 (pbk.), 0734401728
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Lost and Found Shaun Tan , John Marsden , Shaun Tan (illustrator), New York (City) : Arthur A. Levine Books , 2011 Z1764283 2011 selected work picture book These three short stories focus on loss and despair to explore how we lose and find what matters most to us: a girl finds a bright spot in a dark world, a boy leads a strange, lost being home, and a group of peaceful creatures loses its home to cruel invaders.
    New York (City) : Arthur A. Levine Books , 2011
Alternative title: 緋紅樹
Transliterated title: Fei hong shu
Language: Chinese

Works about this Work

"There is No Sun Without the Shadow and it is Essential to Know the Night" : Albert Camus' Philosophy of The Absurd and Shaun Tan's The Red Tree Jessica Phillips , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: Children's Literature in Education , vol. 51 no. 1 2020; (p. 5-20)

'Shaun Tan’s 2001 picture book The Red Tree features a nameless, redheaded protagonist wandering through a series of surreal, strange and overwhelmingly dark landscapes. Tan himself, together with his commentators, has characterised The Red Tree’s contents as “absurd,” yet this term has not been defined, nor have any connections been traced between the themes of the text and one of the most important thinkers of the absurd: the twentieth-century French philosopher Albert Camus, whose notion of the absurd is explicated in The Myth of Sisyphus. This article argues not only that Camus’ notion of the absurd provides insights into Tan’s The Red Tree, but also that Tan’s work can help readers develop an understanding of Camus’ philosophy. It focuses on three significant aspects of Camus’ work that serve to unite these two writers, namely the journey of self-explication one undergoes after sensing the absurd, strangeness, and hope.'

Source: Springer.

The Picture of Madness-Visual Narratives of Female Mental Illness in Contemporary Children's Literature Imogen Church , 2018 single work criticism
— Appears in: Children's Literature in Education , June vol. 49 no. 2 2018;

'This article analyses a selection of contemporary children’s visual texts (for economy and specificity ‘contemporary’ is taken to mean the current century), covering a cross-section of age demographics to better understand how the texts depict female characters suffering with mental illness. It examines these primary texts not only to see how such characters are represented but also to see whether they either bolster or challenge the idea of the female being viewed as the male's ‘Other’. A brief historical and cultural contextualisation of the relationship between mentally ill females and the male-centric profession of modern psychiatry is followed by a close analysis of four primary texts, analysing visual narratives of mentally ill female characters in two picture books, an illustrated book and a graphic novel, noting how contemporary visual depictions contrast with early ideas and images supporting the nineteenth-century feminisation of madness. The conclusion is that, from the limited selection of texts analysed, contemporary children’s visual texts represent a clear contrast to the historical image of the frail and winsome madwoman. The findings are that they do not uphold the image of the female madwoman as Other.' (Publication abstract)

'Darkness Overcomes You' : Shaun Tan and Søren Kierkegaard Martin Blok Johansen , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Children's Literature in Education , March vol. 46 no. 1 2015; (p. 38-52)
'This article analyses Shaun Tan’s picturebook The Red Tree using some of the central concepts of existentialism developed by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard argued that being a person entails a coming-to-be [tilblivelse], and for the person this coming-to-be manifests itself as a task. The task is to become oneself, which involves working through despair and becoming concrete. It is argued that The Red Tree demonstrates this process, with both the verbal and visual text depicting how despair can manifest itself through a process of sundering [splittelse], in which the little girl protagonist experiences separation, splitting and a sense of doubleness. Ultimately, though, this girl achieves a growing-together; she experiences a sense of concretion as she becomes the one she is, as symbolised by the magnificently sprouting red tree.' (Publication abstract)
Negotiating Miranda's Vision in the Classroom : Critical Encounters with Literature, from Archetypal Symbolism to Dystopian Fantasy Tzina Kalogirou , Konstantinos Malafantis , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: Thinking Through Children’s Literature in the Classroom 2014; (p. 129-147)
What I’m Reading Francesca Haig , 2014 single work column
— Appears in: Meanjin Online 2014;
[Review] The Red Tree H. M. Saxby , 2002 single work review
— Appears in: Reading Time : The Journal of the Children's Book Council of Australia , February vol. 46 no. 1 2002; (p. 14)

— Review of The Red Tree Shaun Tan , 2001 single work picture book
Spinach for Small Minds Meg Sorensen , 2001 single work review
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 15-16 December 2001; (p. 10-11)

— Review of Let's Get a Pup Bob Graham , 2001 single work picture book ; The Red Tree Shaun Tan , 2001 single work picture book
Nourishment for Dreams Jenny Pausacker , 2002 single work review
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 13-14 April 2002; (p. 13)

— Review of Baby Bilby, Where Do You Sleep? Narelle Oliver , 2001 single work picture book ; The Red Tree Shaun Tan , 2001 single work picture book ; The House of Narcissus Margaret Wild , 2001 single work picture book ; Where Does Thursday Go? Janeen Brian , 2001 single work picture book ; Olga the Brolga Rod Clement , 2002 single work picture book
[Review] The Red Tree Pam Macintyre , 2002 single work review
— Appears in: Viewpoint : On Books for Young Adults , Autumn vol. 10 no. 1 2002; (p. 46)

— Review of The Red Tree Shaun Tan , 2001 single work picture book
[Review] The Red Tree Jo Goodman , 2002 single work review
— Appears in: Magpies : Talking About Books for Children , March vol. 17 no. 1 2002; (p. 30)

— Review of The Red Tree Shaun Tan , 2001 single work picture book
The Children's Book Council of Australia : Annual Awards 2002 2002 single work column
— Appears in: Reading Time : The Journal of the Children's Book Council of Australia , August vol. 46 no. 3 2002; (p. 2-13)
It'll End in Tears : Melancholy in Contemporary Australian Picture Books Elizabeth Parsons , 2005 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 4 no. 2005; (p. 77-88)
Images of Refuge with Deep Imprint Penelope Davie , 2006 single work column
— Appears in: The Courier-Mail , 28 - 29 October 2006; (p. 34)
Child's Tale Taps Emotional Scales Clare Morgan , 2008 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 10 July 2008; (p. 14)
Two composers explain how the images in Shaun Tan's picture book The Red Tree, have provided inspiration for a new composition.
Not Just a Pretty Picture Fiona Gruber , 2008 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Australian , 10 November 2008; (p. 30)
Book illustrators say their work deserves to be seen as art.
Last amended 5 May 2021 09:42:09