Tag Archives: Shaun Tan

World Refugee Day 2020

It’s worse than ever, isn’t it? For refugees, and for anyone who’s left their original home for a new one, not feeling at home or being accepted.

And usually it’s easier to feel something when World Refugee Day (or Week) comes round. But right now my softer feelings are worn so thin for so many reasons that it seems as if I almost don’t have them.

But I would like to tank the generous Debi Gliori for setting me on the road to – occasionally – donating money to The Scottish Refugee Council. She once did something very kind for me, and refused payment, instead suggesting I give the money to a refugee organisation. And then, when I suddenly had people asking what I wanted as payment for doing stuff, and it felt like ‘yes I did do this thing but money isn’t the way to deal with your gratitude’ I realised I could also do that; I could ask them to donate. So this has happened a few times now. If you feel the urge to give me money, think of the Scottish Refugee Council instead.

Because it’s Carnegie/Greenaway medal week, I will leave you with a reminder of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s such a beautiful book, showing a lone man arriving somewhere strange, to him. But not to all the people already there. And with time, he too gets used to his new home. The strange is no longer quite so strange, but on the other hand, it will never be ‘home’ as in the place you come from.

Medals for ‘my’ boys

It’s good to know the witch senses are working just fine. I could simply not see any other outcome regarding the Carnegie Medal than that Anthony McGowan would be awarded it for Lark. It could have happened sooner, but this way we got all four books of the trilogy in.

(And I’m saying this even keeping in mind the competition Tony was up against.)

For the Kate Greenaway medal it was Shaun Tan for his Tales From the Inner City (which I’ve yet to read). One of my most favourite illustrators, and I’m more than satisfied.

This year the proceedings were short and on Radio 4, on Front Row. They interviewed both Tony and Shaun and both read from their books, and explained the background to what they’d written. Tony got so excited he had to be interrupted in the middle of his ‘terrific’ answer…

According to Shaun ‘painting is really a way of exploring anxiety’. Plenty of that around.

Yep, very satisfied with this.

Anthony McGowan, Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 from CILIP CKG Children’s Book Awards on Vimeo.

Memorial

The trouble with time is that it passes. When I was younger I felt it completely natural that soldiers from WWI were still alive. Now it is the people who fought in WWII who are barely still with us. What was once very big, ceases to have relevance to new generations. Whatever it is, it feels hard for those who do remember; that the thing that changed their lives so completely gets relegated to the history books.

Gary Crew and Shaun Tan, Memorial

In Gary Crew’s book Memorial, with illustrations by Shaun Tan, this is evident. It is not a new book, but a re-issued classic, almost. First published in 1999 it shows us a young boy who visits his (Australian) town’s memorial to The Big War with his great grandfather, and the personal memories this man still has, of those who fought with him, and those who didn’t come home. And of the planting of a tree next to the statue.

Then we meet his son, the boy’s grandfather, with his own memories of the next war. And the boy’s father, who was in Vietnam. A lot has happened under the tree; at the various homecomings, but also in everyday life.

The trouble is that the tree has grown quite big, and its are roots damaging the road, which by now is much busier than it was. And the council wants to remove it.

Can you remove a Shrine of Remembrance?

Or is there something else that people remember you by?


Reading this book now, another 18 years have passed, and the kind of family continuity it describes is no longer possible. Soon this boy will be able to tell the story to another generation, but it will be someone who hasn’t met the former soldiers.

Here I Am

Here I Am is a wordless story by Patti Kim, with pictures by Sonia Sánchez. They are lovely pictures, totally different from Shaun Tan’s in The Arrival, but strangely reminiscent of that book anyway. This is about arriving in a strange country, where you know no one, and can’t understand the language, and in the case of the small boy in the story, where you don’t want to be.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez, Here I Am

Patti has experienced this herself, having moved to America from Korea many years ago, as a small child. What’s so fascinating about this book, is the fact that Sonia has illustrated a story that has no words, so I would have liked to see how they worked on it.

The boy in this story has brought a memory from his old home. It’s a large seed, and he feels good about it. And then he loses it. He drops it and a little girl runs away with it. He runs after her, but before he finds her again, he has been forced to experience life as it happens around him.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez, Here I Am

And that makes him feel better, to the extent that the seed loses some of its importance. He learns about this new place. It’s not so bad.

This is the kind of thing many of us need. We need to be forced out of our comfort zone, or our moping, and go out there.

What you are

Unless I believe that it would be better – for insurance purposes, say (I have heard that writers are riskier people) – not to be a writer, I now have the temerity to call me a writer. I have done for some time.

Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t go round daily patting me on the back, crowing over how wonderful I am. But the whole idea came back to me when reading the thoughts of Jackie Morris in the comments section of my interview with her Australian colleague Shaun Tan yesterday. (For some inexplicable reason WordPress have removed the comments from the right hand bar on the Bookwitch home page, meaning browsing guests won’t immediately find it.)

Jackie wants to be seen as an artist, not only an illustrator. She is right. She is entitled to want to be seen as one, and I reckon she definitely is an artist. I suppose I don’t feel that to be an illustrator is bad either, but I know what Jackie means. Shaun is a modest man, but he is obviously also an artist.

What you are has little to do with whether you earn money from doing what you want to be. I write every day. Hence I am a writer. I don’t have to be chosen by anyone to say that. Not by a publisher. Not even by readers.

When I was younger I always wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be bilingual; and guess what! I am. It doesn’t mean a person is 100% perfect at two or more languages. It means that someone uses those languages in their daily life. It probably doesn’t mean you are 50% in both, or 30/70. Most of us are likely to be 150% when both languages are taken together. Perhaps. Good. Adequate.

(For obvious reasons I don’t generally think of myself as a dishwasher-filler. But I’d be entitled to, unless ten minutes a day is too brief for name-calling.)

Sketches From A Nameless Land – The Art of The Arrival

When ‘reading’ Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, I wondered a great deal about the background to the book, and how he had managed to work on one thing for so long.

Now I know. There is a companion volume out, where Shaun describes his work on The Arrival, and how he thought, and how the ideas arrived. It is beautiful.

It’d be so easy to assume that a ‘picture book’ can’t mean a lot of work. But here you can see just how much went into each and every one of all those drawings that fill The Arrival. For instance, there is a picture of a group of people sharing a meal together. Simple? Well, first Shaun invited some friends round for a meal, then he filmed them eating, and then he drew countless pictures of the people round the table, until it became what’s in the book.

As for how he built a small city of cardboard boxes, and filmed himself with his dad’s overalls and a garden pesticide sprayer, to achieve that industrialised genocide feeling, well…

Shaun Tan, The Arrival

This book is like being invited to Shaun’s studio and getting a personally guided tour where he explains all his thoughts and how he tried various ideas until he got it right.

If you liked The Arrival, then this is a must.

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…