May 4, 2012
The Red Book
By Barbara Lehman; illus. by author
3-4 Preschool Primary Houghton Mifflin 32 pp.
978-0618428588 Hardcover $14.99
Barbara Lehman won a Caldecott Honor for The Red Book, a wordless picture book that weaves elements of magical realism and post-modernism successfully into a simple story that simply works. A girl picks up a mysterious red book as she walks down her snowy urban street. When she opens it, the book narrows in on a picture of an island on which there is a boy. The page turn reveals the boy discovering his own red book in the sand. The two watch each other over the course of the day through their respective red books. When school gets out, the girl buys two huge bunches of balloons and floats away to meet the boy on the island. In the process, she drops the red book, ensuring that someone else will find it and continue the story.
Lehman's graphic illustrations are straight-forward and modern. There is little embellishment beyond shading, and even that has a sort of practical, no-nonsense quality to it. You would expect these pictures to illustrate an equally straight-forward story, which is why they communicate the fantastical elements of Lehman's story so well. Of course a red book can show you a different place! Of course a bunch of balloons can take you to an island! It's a wonderful juxtaposition of realism and magical realism and it makes both elements work in the service of the story. The Red Book is a delightful read. While toddlers might have a hard time grasping the self-referentiality of the illustrations, preschoolers are just old enough to buy in and enjoy on their own or with their parents.