81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
It's official. The results are in. The year 2004 can now officially be declared the "Best Year of Wordless Picture Books" on record. This little appreciated genre of fiction has rarely ever been given its due. Yet now we can enjoy such marvelous stories as "The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard" by Gregory Rogers and "Home" by Jeannie Baker. And then, to top it all off, is the frosting on the cake. "The Red Book" by Barbara Lehman, which stretches the boundaries of picture books everywhere and spices up its story with a distinctly post-modern edge. Some author/illustrators might find it exceedingly difficult to write a picture book, within a book, within a book, without adding so much as a gasp or sigh to dot the text. Not Lehman. The result is this marvelous Caldecott Honor winner that deserves your full undivided attention.
The story is a misleadingly simple one. A girl walking through a gray winter cityscape finds the corner of a bright red book peeking out of a snowbank by the sidewalk. She rescues the item and takes it with him to school. A quick perusal of it shows that it is a story about a warm sunny island, where a boy walking along the sand also finds a red book, this time peeking out of a sandbank. As the boy on the beach reads it he sees that is a story about a city... in which a girl in her classroom is reading about him. The two kids realize what is happening and are intrigued. So what is the natural solution to this problem? The city girl leaves school for the day and buys as many colorful balloons as she can from a local street vendor. The balloons carry her up... up... up above the industrial uniformity below, causing her to accidentally drop the book. It lands on a sidewalk where we see the island boy sitting on the sand waiting. As the wind flips the pages of the book the island boy sees the city girl coming in for a landing and they joyfully meet up with one another. Then the red book closes and someone else picks it up and rides away on his bicycle. Undoubtedly to participate in a whole new adventure.
Did you get all that? It's a little difficult to summarize this tale if only because Lehman, as an author/illustrator, is so doggone adept. And though it sounds complex, I assure you that almost every five-year-old you show it to will grasp the concept immediately. This is the kind of story that teaches them all about breaking down the fourth wall... in a preschool kinda way. Entirely aside from the concept, however, are Lehman's great pictures. It's funny, but until now Lehman hasn't illustrated or written anything particularly well-known. Her style is like that of a sophisticated Amy Schwartz (of "What James Likes Best" fame), with simple characters and distinct lines. But where Schwartz relies on simplicity to the point of wide open spaces, Lehman has filled this particular book with beautiful geometric lines and angles. The city girl's classroom is all angles and kids in straight rows. And she's especially good at distance and characters' points of view. For example, when the city girl floats above his shrinking metropolis and drops the red book you have a beautiful view through her eyes of the book falling to the street, far below her little blue boots. Then there are the colors. In the city, everything has that dull uniformity of a wintery city. On the island everything is bright and sunshiny (making for a lovely contrast when the boys see one another through the book). Finally, the city girl's method of travel, her balloons, are bright beautiful multicolored orbs that are just as noticeable in the urban sky as they are the island.
For a logical pairing to this story, consider reading "The Red Book" alongside David Wiesner's, "The Three Pigs". Both stories present deft original deconstructions of old picture book motifs in a style that kids everywhere will wonder at and enjoy. Admittedly, after reading this book I am a little sad that "Kitten's First Full Moon" (which I loved... don't get me wrong) won the Caldecott in 2005. But at least this story has gotten the full attention it so richly deserves. A lovely addition to any child's collection and a truly memorable tale.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2005
This is the kind of book that you find yourself thinking about long after you have returned it to the shelf. I "read" it a few weeks ago for the first time (there are no words, so I guess I just took a picture walk, as they say), and I still have very vivid memories of the story. The pictures are great, and the implied plot is engaging.
The best thing, though, is all of the possible interpretations, and all of the questions. Does the book in your hand interact with the red book held by the girl and the boy? Or is it the same book? Where does the book go? Does the boy live on the island? Are they friends now?
This would be a fun way to get kids to look for meaning without getting hung up on words.
I highly recommend it for anyone, at any level. It is exciting and innovative.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
This book-within-a-book has the power of Shakespeare's fantasy sequences, the mischief of Twain, and the clever trickery of Lewis Carroll. "The Red Book" is open to multiple interpretations, even by the same reader! It's all beguiling illustrations, but they're drawn so seamlessly that they suggest the magical story about two children drawn increasingly closer to each other. I say "suggest" because this is a highly interactive book: Your experiences and those of your child will inform the shape and tone of Lehman's deft presentation.
The Plot and the Parallels:
A big city schoolgirl uncovers a red book almost hidden by the snow. As she reads the book she finds a map of an island, and the book's pictures get progressively closer to the island. Finally, the girl turns to a page in which she sees a boy on the beach of this island; the boy is holding a red book which leads him closer and closer to a picture of the big city schoolgirl in her apartment. They apparently have found the same red book, or two red books with the same storyline but different points of view. This red book, as it is read, leads each child to pictures of the other child reading the book! In one particularly astonishing illustration, we see the girl looking out her window with wonder, while her open book reveals the boy (with a similar expression) with his open book showing the picture of the same girl we see looking out of her window! Film buffs may associate this dualism with "Strangers on a Train," or "Blow-Up," whereas literature has parallels (pun intended) in "Lolita" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." While these works have an association with evil or moral ambiguity, "The Red Book" reassuringly shows that when the girl and boy see each other they smile; they're definitely glad to see each other.
Wanting to visit the boy in her book, the girl buys big, brightly colored helium balloons and flies (again, with a smile) over the city and towards the ocean. As she takes off, she accidentally drops the red book on a grey-bricked wharf. (The contrasting patterns and textures of reddish and grey rectangular books, round balloons in the distance, lapping waves of blue-green ocean, and light snow falling against a grey and white sky is inspired). Through the open pages of this dropped book, we view the boy on the island. As the pages turn (or, is it one illustrated page that acts like a window into the island?) we see that the boy sees (while reading more of HIS red book) that the girl is flying, holding onto her balloons. As she flies out of the red book's picture, he becomes sad and looks away from the book. However, the reader of Barbara Lehman's "The Red Book" can still follow the adventure through the book on the wharf. The girl lands safely, and she and the boy happily meet each other. Finally, we see one of the girl's classmates (you wouldn't know who he is without looking back at one of the earlier pages) picking up the red book that the girl dropped onto the wharf. He rides away on his bicycle, casting an enigmatic look towards the reader, as if he has found a treasure that doesn't quite belong to him but that he's going to keep anyway (my interpretation).
The Adult's Red Book
There's enough going on here to inspire spirited discussions among adults: Is the red book (the one pictured in "The Red Book") a symbolic representation of how those fortunate enough might find a kindred spirit or "soul mate?" You (the adult) could go even further. Perhaps it is a representation of the discovery of sexuality or an illustration of how power can be used for good or bad? Most likely, "The Red Book" (the one seems to say something about the power of reading: The power to take us on imaginative journeys, to project ourselves and our feelings onto others, and to discover new things about ourselves. It could be a combination of many ideas, depending on the reader. The book will be enormously appealing to adults interested in such questions (after all, look at the popularity of the similarly themed, but more aggressively marketed "Griffin and Sabine"), as well as those who appreciate a stimulating story with beautiful illustrations.
The Kids' Red Book
However, adults may wonder whether it will interest young readers. I think it will, although much will depend on the personality, interests, and age of the child. Some children will enjoy and understand the twin reflecting fantasies, and will come up with the kinds of questions posed above. (Younger children may not get all the nuances, but will probably understand that the boy and girl can see each other through the pictures in two very similar looking red books.) Other children may be a bit disturbed and/or turned off by the ambiguity, the difficulty in navigating the converging plotlines, and the uncertain conclusion. Let your knowledge about your child's psychology and your own attitudes about abstract fantasies guide you in deciding whether this belongs on his or her bookshelf. Personally, I think that this is an incredibly intriguing, brilliantly conceived and realized, and exceptionally illustrated book that can be enjoyed by children and an older audience as well. It's an amazing book that succeeds on many levels, one that could be read--almost as if for the first time--for many years to come.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2005
Not only is this book beautifully illustrated and easy to understand, it really allows parents to involve little ones in the story. Although the story is straightforward, the absence of written words allows one to alter the storyline in an infinite number of ways. Little ones may make up their own stories, as well.
Perhaps the best aspect of this book is the fact that the cover is red. This allows the child to believe that they have found the red book! In our household, the end of the story is that the red book found its way to the bookstore, where Mommy and Daddy picked it up. Now, our little one has new friends who are probably reading about him right now, too!
As an aside, I wonder whether this book has reminded anyone else of the "Take On Me" video...
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2004
What can books do exactly? Do they truly have the power to connect people? The Red Book does seem to have that power. It says The Red Book on its spine, and it is a red book so it keeps to the truth though it becomes fantastic as its story unfolds. It shows a little girl running on its cover as though about to turn the corner of the cover's edge. The viewer is drawn to follow her to the in side of the book, as though entering a space. A double page cityscape unfolds. We the see our little girl as she walks along the city's streets and finds a red book. Opening it she discovers a map showing a boy on an island finding a red book. They regard each other through the picture-window of the book. She seeks out a balloon vendor, buys a bundle of balloons that carry her away to the boy's island but drops her red book. A boy on a city street finds it and there we may assume the story begins again. Barbara Lehman's soft flannel-textured flat gouache illustrations allow us to be comfortably drawn into the pages on the imaginative journey offered by The Red Book.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
We happened to find this little book in our school library. My preschool-aged son selected it solely based on the inviting bright red color of it's cover. We were surprized to find it to be a book of no words... only those we chose to give it. It is beautifully and creatively drawn. A treat for those who dream of adventure and are willing to find it in imagination.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2004
I love this little book. Personally, I think it's one of the best picture books to come along in ages! A girl finds a red book in a snowdrift. Inside are pictures of a boy on a tropical island. The boy is also reading a red book. Curious. His red picture book shows a girl in the city who is reading a book about a boy on an island... hey, woah! Lehman's illustrations beautifully convey the unique twist of this magical story/brain teaser for the very young (and not so very young.) The story is an inspiring message about the power of books transcending time and space to bring people together. For me, the best part about The Red Book is that it's a book within a book. The reader is not simply an observer, but a participant of sorts (since they're reading The Red Book too!) I predict The Red Book becomes a classic.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2006
I am very picky about children's books. I like this one because it opens up my son's imagination to think about what is going on in the story (since it has no words). He is 5 1/2 and enjoys this book.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2005
The Red Book is a seemingly simple story that, in the end, proves to be pretty thought-provoking. Parents, if you've dismissed this book as a "kiddie" book and not for your 4-8 year old, then reconsider.
A small girl donning winter clothing sees a red book on the side of the sidewalk, while walking to school. So what does she do; she picks it up and takes it along to school. During class, all our protagonist can think about is the book. That's when she opens this red book, and finds a map, which shows an island, and then a boy, who sees another red book in the sand...
The pictures are good enough, with bold colors and black outlining each object. Lehman has written a book that will surely jump-start her career.
R, your friendly neighborhood reviewer
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2008
This is a wordless picture book. I had purchased this book with other wordless books but it was not what I expected. The book has intricate levels of viewing and I had to look at the book two or three times to really grasp the meaning. It would be difficult for the average child to write a story for. It would work well with gifted students and their creative thinking. I teach second graders and this is there least favorite of my wordless books. I have had several tell me, I don't get it. It might work well with older children.