“Reading” the Red Book

posted in: Barbara Lehman | 13

Following on from the wordless Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay we have recently been enjoying another story told without words, The Red Book by Barbara Lehman.

Through simple line drawings and the clever use of frames to create pace Barbara Lehman tells the story of a young girl who, on her way to school, comes across a book, bound in red, lying on the pavement. Upon opening it up she is both magically and literally drawn into the story of a young boy, on an island far away, who has a matching red book. These tomes act like two-way mirrors – the girl can look in to her book and see the boy on his beach, whilst the boy can look through into the girl’s urban world full of skyscrapers. Once these two characters are united we see their red books slipping away and a new set of connections being made by the next lucky people to happen upon the red books.

The clean, uncluttered, apparently simple illustrations are superb – by changing the size of her illustrations, varying the perspective, framing some scenes and not others Lehman has created a real “page-turner”, a story that that swept up M and ignited her imagination. Like stepping into paintings (as in Katie and the Sunflowers or Flyaway Katie), stepping into books and physically becoming part of the story is exciting draw for the reader (young or old), offering whole new worlds of possibilities.

Additionally, I loved the metaphor of books enabling us to connect with people far away, in different countries and from different cultures and how that connection, and personal adventure, can be passed on by passing on the book to someone else. A specific book may come into our lives for a short while but the experience can stay with us long after and be something that connects us to others.

The cyclical or perhaps more aptly the moebius-strip-like construction of the story reminded us of another lovely wordless book – Flotsam (which we reviewed some time back, here) by David Wiesner. The complex and detailed illustrations in the book by Wiesner made me reflect on how engaging the illustrations in The Red Book are, despite being almost at the other end of the scale when it comes to (apparent) simplicity and minimalism.

The landscape the girl with the red book inhabits is one of high skyscrapers and cheek-by-jowl buildings. Inspired by this, we set about making our own cityscape to play with and in.

First I covered several boxes in brown parcel paper. This may not be necessary if you are using brown cardboard boxes, but I’ve found that lots of boxes (eg for nappies) are hard to paint on with tempura paint because of the shiny surface. If you do use paper to cover your boxes then I recommend using masking tape rather than regular sellotape as again, paint will adhere nicely to masking tape but not so well to shiny sellotape.

Once the boxes were dry, the girls used some window stencils I had prepared and sponge-painted the windows on to the buildings. Either I had to hold down the template or we used masking tape to temporarily keep the stencils in place. The girls used sponges rather than paintbrushes to keep paint seeping under the stencil to a minimum, so our window had relatively sharp edges.

J particularly enjoyed using the sponges!

Once the windows were dried the girls set about creating their city with the help of some lego…

… and a lot of fun was had by all!

The Red Book: ** (2 stars)

Whilst making our city scape we listened to:

  • Hey Little Red Bird by Dan Zanes & Friends
  • Little Red Rooster by The Rolling Stones
  • Red House by Jimi Hendrix

  • Other activities we’d like to do inspired by The Red Book include:

  • A driftwood city like this one by Alisa Burke
  • A city out of matchboxes or candy boxes using this advent calendar from that artist woman as inspiration
  • Making our own red books, perhaps like this accordion book or mini book in an envelope, both from Bird and Little Bird, or any one of these from Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
  • We might also re-visit using helium balloons to lift up toys (or people)…

  • I’m hoping this post will be part of the next Get Crafty carnival over at Redtedart’s Blog, where Maggy writes wonderful things about books, play and art – a wonderful combination that I’ll think you’ll love too! If you’d like to contribute to the carnival (on the theme of “Made by Man”) there’s still time…

    13 Responses

    1. choxbox

      WOW! Hats off to your enthusiasm and creativity!

      And looks like the weather is nice! Please keep it that way for the next few weeks 😉

    2. sandhya

      We recently watched ‘The Snowman’ by Raymond Briggs. A wonderful movie, from an equally wonderful wordless book. Although it feels more like a comic strip.

    3. Z-Dad

      Great cityscape!

      Another Barbara Lehman book we really enjoy is “Museum Trip.” It’s wordless as well…

    4. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Choxbox
      I’m seeing what I can do with the weather gods for you!

      Hi Sandhya,
      Yes The Snowman film is lovely although we played the music over and over again when I was at school so now I can’t really enjoy it!

      Hi Z-Dad – thanks so much for pointing out Museum Trip to me, it looks like one we’ll enjoy 🙂

    5. Kristine

      A cool world Zoe – I love mixing toys including home made ones too! It opens up play doesn’t it.

      I can’t remember who did it, I think I saw it on Crafty Crow but someone got around the shiny box problem. By opening up a box, turning it inside out and then closing it up again.

      How old is J now? She looks like she’s had a growth spurt.

    6. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Kristine,
      Mixing homemade and shop bought always seems to work for us – gives everything a new lease of life! Yes, turning boxes inside out is another option. What I like about wrapping them up is that we can remove the paper and use the boxes again – we don’t get so many good sized boxes to play with! J is 2 years 2 months but she’s big for her age…

    7. magg, red ted art

      Zoe, you are far too modest!! I would LOVE this to be part of Made by Man Get Crafty! Your city is AWESOME! And I LOVE the look of the book… it is going straight on my wish list!!

      Thank you so much for mention Get Crafty and linking up AND your VERY VERY kind comments! 🙂

      M xx

    8. Pyjama Days | If you go down to the woods today...

      […] Just in case we need something to do that isn’t good honest lolling about (unlikely) I’ve been having a look at some good crafty stuff. It’s a good excuse to head over to Playing by the book, a lovely blog by a family who take inspiration from the books that they read to get all messy and glittery. My plan if the small ones start wreaking havoc on our pyjama day is to have a crack at their cardboard city. […]

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