The Red Book - Thao Lam
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The Red Book

The Red Book

The Red Book

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An onion has many layers. Keep reading…

Once in a while a book comes along that is as layered as an onion. Written and illustrated by Barbara Lehman, The Red Book is simple yet conceptually rich. It is a wordless book that tells a story of a little girl who discovers a red book on her way to school. She opens the book to find a series of illustrations: a map, then an island, then a beach, and finally a boy, who happens to be staring at her. The little boy had himself stumbled upon a similar red book, with a series of illustrations showing a city skyline, then a building, then a window, and finally a girl staring back at him. (It’s like Google Earth in book form – I wonder if someone on the research and development team there read The Red Book as a kid and felt inspired.) I’ll let you peel away the rest of the layers of this story and savour the joy of being transported to a different place.

The illustrations were created using watercolour, gouache and ink, and are visually uncluttered. Lehman used a winter-colour palette of grays, blue and browns with splashes of vibrant colours here and there that lead the eye through the story. Each illustration is contained in a square frame or a four-window-pane format, giving readers the impression that they are observing the story from another building.

There is a Eureka! moment in the book when you realize that you are part of the story and that the book you are holding has the same red cover as the one little girl is holding as she stares out to you. It’s the same as the one the little boy is holding as he is staring at her. It’s like being lost in one of those carnival fun houses, surrounded by mirrors with endless reflections staring back at you, until you’re not sure which world is real.

The Red Book, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

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Author and Illustrator Barbara Lehman

Born in Chicago, Barbara Lehman attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she earned a BFA in communication design. Lehman would spend hours looking at the skyscrapers while living in New York. Inspired by the skyline, she created The Red Book, incorporating different perspectives of the city she had observed and her longtime fascination with maps and adventure.

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (September 27, 2004)

ISBN-10 0618428585

ISBN-13 978-0618428588