Tag Archives: Shaun Tan

The Red Tree

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

It has a rather Finnish, Tove Jansson kind of feel to it. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a book I’d not read before, and I was struck by how Finnish it seemed. Not surprising, but still.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

I can’t make my mind up whether it is sad or not. It deals with feeling sad. Days that start bad and get worse. Shaun’s pictures show pretty vividly how bad you can feel; lonely and dark, and unsure of who you are, even.

Reading this book and discovering you are not alone in feeling alone, ought to be a good thing. Finding you can share your thoughts and feelings with someone who has been there.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

And then there is the ending…

A very beautiful book.

The Lost Thing

I’d like to be found by someone like the boy in Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. If I was lost, I mean. To be found by someone who seems to care that you are lost. Someone who will look after you, while recognising you need something else, and who will then attempt to find what you need. Deep down.

A bottle-top collector might not be your first choice of saviour – unless you are a bottle-top – but it is someone who is used to finding things, and then doing something about them. You could do worse.

I don’t think he has a name. The finder. Or the lost thing, for that matter.

But, anyway, the finder finds a large and lost looking thing on the beach. He takes it home when it becomes obvious no one else is going to claim it. His parents object, but soon forget again. He feeds the thing and leaves it in the shed.

Recognising it needs more than he can give it, he tries The Federal Department of Odds & Ends, but is warned that it’s a bit of a dead end for things. He takes the thing somewhere else, and finally it seems to have got to a place where it belongs, where there are other equally odd things.

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing

It is an odd little story, but a good one. And Shaun’s illustrations are out of this world, as always. I was gripped by a desire to tear the pages out of the book and frame them for my walls.

So far I’ve managed to resist.

Black Dog

Levi Pinfold’s lovely book Black Dog is a more than worthy winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is beautifully illustrated and beautifully made, with a soft, mother-of-pearl kind of cover, that just begs to be stroked.

Levi Pinfold, Black Dog

The pictures are a little in the style of Shaun Tan, with a dash of Oliver Jeffers, and you can’t go wrong with that.

The Hope family live in the most wonderful and strange house, and at times I almost forgot the story, because I was so fascinated by what their house looked like.

One morning Mr Hope discovers a black dog outside the house. It scares him, and he over-reacts quite a bit. Then Mrs Hope sees the dog and does likewise. Each time someone in the family sees the black dog it grows, and so does their fear of it.

That’s until the very tiny Small Hope takes charge of the situation and shows her family that there is no need to hide. By the time she does so, the dog is Very Large Indeed.

The Viewer

It’s scary. Really very scary, if you stop and think about it. But with stunning pictures, as always with Shaun Tan.

The words are by Gary Crew, so I suppose I should mostly blame his imagination for this creepiness. The story is about Tristan, who is interested in unusual things. One day he finds something a bit like the old-fashioned Viewmaster which children have always liked. Except this seems to have a life of its own. And it doesn’t show terribly nice pictures.

Shaun Tan, The Viewer

I’m relieved I never owned one of these. If I had, and still had it, I’d have to throw it away.

As you can understand, The Viewer is a picture book, but not for small children.

Back to Tristan. His life is taken over by this picture monstrosity, and he loses control. And when his mother…

A Little, Aloud

This is one anthology that I won’t be able to carry around with me in order to catch all its participating authors for autographs. Many are dead, and anyway, there are so many of them. Many means good, because there is a tremendous variety and choice, and once you’ve read what you fancy, you might pick something you don’t. That way you discover that is actually also perfectly fine.

You don’t always get anthologies intended to be read aloud, which of course doesn’t stop you from doing so. Short stories and excerpts and poems are just right for that bedtime read, when you are praying you won’t be sitting on the edge of the bed half the night. This book obligingly tells you how long you can expect to spend reading each contribution, so no nasty surprises.

A Little, Aloud

The royalties for this collection of good reads go to The Reader Organisation, which has as its aim ‘reading and health.’ Very nice to see those two words used together. I frequently sit down with a book even when far too many little jobs and crises scream at me that my attention is of the utmost importance. I know that I will feel so much better after a read.

Foreworded by Michael Morpurgo (naturally) and with blurbs by Philip Pullman and Stephen Fry (two men whose voices I just love listening to), the book begins with Instructions by Neil Gaiman. I mistakenly thought he was needed to tell us what to do, but it was actually a proper poem.

Many of the stories in here are ones I have already read, as part of the novel they hail from or as works in their own right. They have, for instance, had the good taste to pick my favourite Shaun Tan story, Broken Toys. There are excerpts from Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as well as Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

You have Shakespeare and Kipling, Stevenson and Larkin, and even good old Anon. I haven’t read them all. Yet. This is another of those volumes I want to keep somewhere near, just to dip into. The pile for dipping is getting taller, but that just can’t be helped.

I will want to dip.

(Apologies to all those, dead or alive, whose names I haven’t listed. They are many. And how marvellous to be able to share classic writers in an easy bite size form with a child.)

Another Edinburgh interview

The really weird thing about interviews (one of them, anyway) is when ‘my’ subjects begin interviewing each other. I enjoyed the one in the Guardian, on Saturday, where Neil Gaiman disguised himself as a Grauniad reporter and talked to Shaun Tan.

He’s had longer admiring Shaun’s work, and they have bumped into each other a few times. That’s how I intend explaining away the fact that Neil’s questions were better than mine.

For various reasons I don’t have ‘my’ own photo of this. But as I’ve hung around the yurt – and the photographers therein – for the past few years, I decided to ask Colin McPherson if he minded me using his picture, which was the one in the article. The nice man said I could, which is very much appreciated.

Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman, © Colin McPherson

And if you want to know what’s going on, Shaun is looking both happy and relieved because Neil is pointing to where I was at the time, which was diagonally across Charlotte Square, and most likely still on my broom. It was a day when I needed to be in two places at once, but wasn’t. I’ll need to work on that skill.

I’m not sure if Shaun claims to have a sketchbook full of nuts, but he might have. There is a Finnish joke, which isn’t bad. (I have always looked west, for Norwegian jokes, and have never concerned myself too much with what they do in the other direction.)

Not talking too much to your brother seems like sensible siblinghood, and I will never be able to look at the grout in my bathroom in the same way again. But no way am I ‘shaving my leg’ for a Shaun Tan tattoo, however much I admire his little drawings.

Very nice to see two of my boys getting together like this. And so typical that Neil almost talks more than Shaun.

(Although I need to go all nerdy and point out it was this year, 2011, that Shaun was awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize… Bet it was a Graun typo.)

The Bird King

and other sketches. How to review a book on art?

Shaun Tan’s Bird King book is so beautiful that I’d like to tear it to pieces. And then I’d frame the pages and hang them on my walls. But I can’t really do that. Can I?

Many of the pictures are well known, because they come from Shaun’s other books. Or they are sketches for those books, or for his film work. Sketches are interesting things. I’ve never understood how artists can make sketches not to be used, and then reproduce what they sketched for the ‘real’ piece. For me it would be luck if something turned out well. You can’t hope to have it happen again.

But it seems you can, if you’re a professional. Or even ‘just’ an artist. Someone who knows what they are doing.

For each of the ‘chapters’ of this book Shaun has written an introduction that explains how he thinks and how he works. For instance, he doesn’t feel that small sketches done on ordinary paper with a cheap biro belong in this book. But they are there, and just as interesting as the more ‘proper’ art. And I’m glad he mentioned sketches done in cheap biro, since I’ll be forever ashamed for having handed Shaun just that (cheap biro) when I asked him to sign this book for me. I suppose that makes it as much art as this whole book.

He has certainly ‘taken a line for a walk’ (Paul Klee) here. This book is full of the weird and wonderful world Shaun sees where the rest of us just don’t.

Perhaps if I buy a second copy, and rip it up?