How This Book Got Red

Image of How This Book Got Red
Release Date: 
October 1, 2023
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reviewed by: 

How This Book Got Red is a deceptively gentle tale; it’s actually a powerful story of healing that comes from finding the courage to take on righting a wrong.”

Red and Gee are best friends, and they are pandas. Pandas that like to read books. When they discover a book about pandas, they are so excited. “A book about us?” Red exclaims, hopping from paw to paw. “This will be better than bamboo bubble tea!” Gee agrees wholeheartedly. But as they devour the book, page by page, Red becomes furious! “How could a book about pandas totally leave out RED PANDAS?” As a red panda, Red is acutely sensitive to this matter. As a black and white giant panda and friend, Gee rallies to be supportive. Alas, the child reader is hooked. What does it feel like to not see yourself in a book? Pretty rotten.

Margaret Chiu Greanias, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, has written an engaging and poignant tale of the importance of representation in picture books. Drawing from her own experiences as a child growing up in New York, Texas, and California, where none of the characters in the books she read looked like her, she notes, “That can impact your self-worth without you even knowing . . . it tells us subconsciously that we are not valued and leaves us wanting to be something we’re not.” Red’s response to this upsetting matter, like Chiu Greanias, is to tackle it head-on: by authoring a book that centers red pandas, an act of self-empowerment.

The problem Red faces is that it isn’t so easy to pen a book—despite such determination. Red writes and erases, writes and erases, and then finally gives up, tossing an incomplete story into the trash—“Who am I kidding? . . . No one wants to read about red pandas”—after seeing nothing but black and white giant pandas everywhere. Nothing could cheer her up, either, not bamboo bubble tea, not forest bathing, not pushing on trees.

But then something happens on their way back from a walk. A group of red pandas finds Red’s story in the trash. They are thrilled! “That one looks just like me!” As the giant friend he is, Gee gives Red a nudge to consider finishing her book. Red is further inspired by hearing what this group of red pandas has to say about their found treasure, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this book!” “I never knew how much I needed this book!” Even Gee chimes in with, “This book would make the world a brighter place.”

And with that kind of boost, Red is re-energized to finish her book, and she “poured her soul onto page . . . after page . . . after page.” With Gee’s illustrations (and some coaching from Red about how to accurately depict a red panda), the book is completed. Red shouts from the treetops, “We’re done! . . . Oh Gee, it’s me. And it’s PERFECT!” Award-winning illustrator, Melissa Iwai, adds a playfulness and whimsy in her childlike drawings, that engage the reader on par with the strong and compelling text.

In the end, there is now a wonderful contribution to the world of books: a book about red pandas! Red and Gee “put the book where everyone could see it. Red hoped other red pandas would see themselves in the book. But if they didn’t . . . maybe they’d be inspired to write their own.” In the spirit of We Need Diverse Books and Dr. Rudine Sims’ writings on “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” Margaret Chiu Greanias and Melissa Iwai have created a book for children about being seen and why that matters.

How This Book Got Red is a deceptively gentle tale; it’s actually a powerful story of healing that comes from finding the courage to take on righting a wrong.