26 February 2016 | Children's Fiction

Red sings from treetops – book review

Red sings from treetops

I pulled this lush, beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated picture book out for Miss 9 to read. She needed to describe her physical features, and this was the perfect book to jumpstart her imagination – even though it has nothing to do with descriptions of people.

Let me explain.

This book, Red sings from treetops, a year in color, is a Caldecott Honour book. It was written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, and published in the US in 2009.

The book begins in spring, and follows the seasons of the year. (Australians, be warned that autumn is, of course, fall in this book. And our ‘colour’ is ‘color’ – important to explain this to kids if they are reading the words themselves.) Each season goes through the many variations of colour – red, yellow, purple, black, white, blue, pink, green etc.

Like all the best picture books, it’s hard to separate the illustrations from the words. Zagarenski used mixed media on wood, along with computer illustrations, to create the layered pages. She uses a lot of paper with text on it for the collage components – something I love to do in art as well.

A picture of geese flying in the sky and an acorn in a hand is accompanied by this text for autumn –

fat and glossy,
rises in honking flocks.
Brown rustles and whispers underfoot.
Brown gleams in my hand:
a tiny round house,
dolloped with roof.

This book may not be for every family – there’s no plot apart from the passing of the seasons. BUT, it is an excellent resource for teachers and parents. So many possibilities – poetry, colour, art, descriptions, seasons, nature, change, growth, senses …

Here’s the description of blue for summer –

And where is blue?
Humming, shimmering,
snoozing in the lazy haze.
Dancing on water
with yellow and green.
In summer,
Blue grows new names:
turquoise, azure, cerulean.

Love that last phrase – imagine guiding a group of ten year-olds to grow new names for other colours!

And here’s Miss 9’s description of herself –

My hair is medium in length and light brown-coloured. My eyes are the colour of bluebells singing in the sun. My hands are like a knife cutting through the water. My voice makes hearts sing.

An hour after I wrote this post, Mr 12 asked me for some help with his poetry homework. So I pointed him in the direction of Red sings from treetops, and found a few examples of metaphors for him. And this is his poem –


Black is night, mysterious and unpredictable,
Black is my T-shirt, warm and comfortable.
Black is a crow, silent and unforgiving,
Black is a cat, friendly and trustworthy.
Black is death, cold and dark,
Black is ebony, tall and strong.
Black is sleep, dreaming and motionless,
Black is a vampire’s heart, bloodthirsty and evil.
Black is a sweep, tall and dusty,
Black is a starless night, beautiful and dark.

So if you pass a girl with eyes the colour of bluebells or a boy with a comfortable black t-shirt, you’ll know they belong to me!

Author interview – Victoria Carless


Terri Dixon

Your children have your gift with words, Karen. Amazing poetry from them.


February 26, 2016 at 9:54 am


Oh my heart would have sung if my kiddies had written those words! I remember when my boy was in prep he came home one day and said a year 1 girl had spoken to him and her hair was ‘the colour of sunshine’! What a wonderful book for teaching children how to think about language.

February 26, 2016 at 9:48 pm

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