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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: shaun tan, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Illustration Inspiration: Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator of Peace is an Offering

Stephanie Graegin spent her childhood drawing and collecting fauna. These days, she lives in Brooklyn, is still drawing, and has managed to keep her animal collection down to one orange cat.

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2. Watch 27 Best Animated Film Oscar Presentations

These rare videos document the presentation of the animated short Oscar from 1949 through 2013.

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3. Show Books

It’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia. A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – […]

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4. Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think […]

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5. Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

The winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into ‪@APAC_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt . It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these […]

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6. Diversity in Children´s Books - Maeve Friel

I am sure that everyone reading this is aware that Guardian Teen Books recently celebrated a week focussing on diversity in books for children.
By diversity, they mean “books by and about all kinds of people… boys, girls, all different colours, all different races and religions, all different sexualities and all different disabilities and anything else you can think of – so our books don’t leave anyone out.”

Benjamin Zephaniah whose Terror Kid is the Guardian Teen Book Club choice says:
“I love diversity. I love multiculturalism… It makes Britain´s music interesting. It makes our food interesting. It makes our literature interesting and it makes for a more interesting country …   To me it’s not about black, white, Asian; it’s about literature for everybody.”

And there you have it: the criterion must be the quality of the literature. I see little value in writing or publishing books to satisfy some sort of quota to reflect the percentages of ethnic or racial populations or other minorities.

The Guardian published a list of 50 books chosen to represent all manner of cultural diversity, from the amazing Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman to Oranges in No Man´s Land by Elizabeth Laird.

Here are a few of my favourite books that are outstanding in every way and that also open windows on to different ways of seeing the world.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, is a wordless book about the experience of emigration/immigration, following the lonely journey of a man to a new country where everything is different and inexplicable. (He signed my copy when he spoke at a Children´s Books Ireland conference a few years ago and it is one of most treasured possessions.)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, is a graphic novel based on her experiences during the cultural and political upheaval of the Iranian revolution after the overthrown of the Shah.  This is a real eye-opener from the first pages showing tiny girls swathed in unfamiliar and unwanted veils in their school playground.

My Dad´s A Birdman, by David Almond, illustrated joyfully and colourfully by Polly Dunbar, is a terrific book about a young girl and her dad who is so overwhelmed with grief that he goes off the rails. It is suffused with love and tenderness and faith in the act of flying as Dad and daughter take part in a madcap and magical contest to sprout wings and fly across the river.  

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is the story of Auggie, a boy with a shocking facial disfigurement who is
starting 5th grade after years of home schooling: imagine how he is dreading it -  “I won´t describe what I look like. Whatever you´re thinking, it´s probably worse.

I would like to add two more joyful books to the mix:

From Tangerine Books, a wonderful picture book, Larry and Friends,  by Ecuadorian illustrator Carla Torres in collaboration with Belgian/Venezuelan writer Nat Jasper celebrating the modern melting pot that is New York.
Larry, the New York dog, holds a party for all his amazing immigrant friends among them Magpa the pig from Poland who became a tightrope artist, Laila the Iranian entomologist, Edgar the Colombian alligator street musician, Ulises, the Greek cook and  a host of other talented and tolerant newcomers to the city – all apparently based on real people and how they met up.  
The book project was successfully funded by kickstarter – see more about it here.

As you can see, the illustrations are divine - this is Layla, the Iranian entomologist who works at the museum.

And finally, another great classic is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1963), possibly one of the earliest American picture books to feature a young African-American hero – although this is never mentioned in the text. It simply tells the story of a young four year old boy discovering snow in the city for the first time. 

You can also find me on Twitter @MaeveFriel

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7. Review – Imagine a City

The sumptuous cloth cover and unfurling clouds swirling across the end pages indicate something special about Elise Hurst’s latest picture book, Imagine a City. You’ll recognise Hurst’s illustrations from her other picture books such as The Night Garden, Flood and The Midnight Club to name a few. Imagine a City is a glorious collection of […]

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8. A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

I’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The Book Thief

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.


I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

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9. Fusenews: Of talking tigers and square penguins

  • So the big news this week was that a writer at Slate decided that now was an ideal time to take a potshot at adults reading young adult books.  And, as you might expect, everyone got quite hot under the collar about it.  To arms!  To arms!  Considering that this sort of thing happens pretty much every time a new YA book hits the mainstream I wasn’t quite as upset as some.  Honestly, I thought Roger Sutton’s piece Why Do We Even Call It YA Anymore? was much more along my own thinking.  I could not help but enjoy Marjorie Ingall’s response as well.
  • Calvin Hobbes 300x225 Fusenews: Of talking tigers and square penguinsIt’s one of those stories that’s just so crazy you don’t quite believe it at first.  So about a year ago I attending a lovely dinner for Stephan Pastis, author of the book Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (as well as the other Timmy books that would follow).  Stephan was one of those fellows just filled to the brim with stories.  And, as luck would have it, his stories were about syndicated cartoonists; one of my favorite things in the world to talk about!  I heard him wax eloquent on the subject of Gary Trudeau, Berkeley Breathed, you name it.  He even had ties to Charles Schulz (a fact that served me well when I interviewed Sparky’s wife Jean).  But when I dared to ask if he’d ever met the elusive Gary Larson or Bill Watterson (of Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes fame respectively) he confessed he had not, though Watterson had once sent him a nice note about one of his comics.  Well bust my buttons, but recently Pastis got a lot more out of Watterson than a mere note.  He got three illustrated comic strips!  Read this post to learn how he did it and why this is as extraordinary a fact as it is.  Wowza!
  • I was very sad to hear about the recent death of legendary children’s book editor Frances Foster.  Read this remarkable interview with her from Horn Book, conducted by Leonard Marcus to get a sense of the woman we just lost.  PW provided a very nice obituary for her here.
  • Essentially, this is kind of a real world case of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, but with a dark dark twist.
  • The voting may be over, but I can’t help but love the collection of different Penguin Random House logos that dared to combine the publishing behemoth.  My personal favorite?  Right here:

Penguinhaus 500x500 Fusenews: Of talking tigers and square penguins

  • I’ve oohed and cooed to you about the fact that Shaun Tan’s rather brilliant picture book Rules of Summer has an accompanying app with music by the amazing and fantastic Sxip Shirey.  However, when I mentioned this fact before the app was not available for purchase.  Now it is.  Go get that thing then.  You can even hear a selection of Sxip’s music for it here.
  • Speaking of Rules of Summer, did you see Travis Jonker’s predictions of what he thinks will win the New York Times Best Illustrated Awards?  Sort of a brilliant list to predict (and I think he’s completely and utterly dead on with his selection).
  • Brain Pickings recently featured a selection of photographs of fictional meals from your favorite books.  The photos are from the book Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals.  Though not strictly limited to children’s literature, it contains a handful of tasty treats worth noting.  Be sure to check out the meals of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Heidi, and a Chicken Soup With Rice that will knock your socks off.
  • Just a quick shout out to my fellow metropolitan librarian Rita Meade who just sold her first children’s book.  Go, Rita, go go go!
  • One minute he’s winning a Tony.  The next minute he’s turning The Dangerous Book for Boys into a television show.  Wait . . . say what now?
  • Did you guys happen to see Grace Lin’s rather remarkably good Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity?  Selling, heck.  This should be disseminated into all the MLIS programs in the States.  Future children’s librarians should be memorizing it by heart.  THIS is how you handsell to a kiddo or a parent, guys.  And Grace did all the work for you!

Daily Image:

Fairly brilliant!

SidewalkEnds Fusenews: Of talking tigers and square penguins

Thanks to Marci for the link.

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10. Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

RulesofSummer 300x279 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanRules of Summer
By Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-545-63912-5
Ages 4 and up
On shelves April 29th

When I was a young teen my favorite book was Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Steeped in Bradbury’s nostalgia for his youth, I was in the throes of adolescence, probably on some level nostalgic for my own younger days. In this book I reveled in a childhood that was not my own but felt personal just the same. Summer seemed like the perfect time to set such a tale, what with its long days and capacity for equal parts mischief and magic. I loved my summers, even as I failed to know what exactly to do with them. I think of Bradbury’s novel from time to time, though its use for me has long since passed. I found myself going back to it after seeing Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer. Encompassing a full summer season, Tan indulges his capacity for the odd and extreme while also managing to delve deeply into a relationship between two brothers. The family story is this book’s heart and soul meaning that when all is said and done this is a book for big siblings and little siblings. Miraculously both will see themselves reflected in the pages of the text. And both, if they approach it from the right direction, will find something to pore over in here for years and years to come.

“This is what I learned last summer,” says the book. It’s the kind of statement you might expect to find in an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Instead, what follows is a series of imaginative, wholly original extremes. Two brothers live in a world of fantastical creatures and gizmos. The younger continually breaks the rules as the elder either berates him or tries to save him from himself. A dinner party of well-dressed birds of prey contains the sentence, “Never eat the last olive at a party” as the older brother pulls his younger away from the potentially deadly entrée. “Never leave the back door open overnight” sees them both facing a living room awash in vegetation and giant lizards, the older boy clearly put out and the younger carrying a bucket and shovel. As the book continues you realize that the younger boy is often at odds with the rules his elder is trying to instill in him. The final straw comes after a massive pummeling, after which the elder brother sells his little bro off to a flock of black birds (“Never lose a fight”). Fortunately, a rescue is made and the book subtly shifts from admonitions to positive statements (“Always know the way home”). The final shot shows the two boys sitting on the couch watching TV, the walls of their living room wallpapered with drawings of the out-of-this-world creatures encountered in the rest of the book.

RulesSummer4 300x211 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanAs a general rule I try to avoid reading other reviews of the children’s book in my hand until I’ve read the stories myself and gotten a sense of my own perspective. In the same frame of mind I avoid reading the bookflaps of books since they’ve a nasty tendency to give away the plot. Usually I’ll even avoid looking at them after I’ve read the book in question, but there are exceptions to every rule. After reading Rules of Summer I idly turned the book over and read this one on the back cover: “Never break the rules. Especially if you don’t understand them.” Huh. Oddly insightful comment. Aw, heck. I couldn’t resist. I looked at the bookflap and there, lo and behold, the book started to make more sense. According to the flap the rules are those seemingly arbitrary ones that younger siblings have to face when older siblings come up with them. Slowly a book that before had seemed to have only the slightest semblance of a plot began to make a lot more sense. Had I not read the flap, maybe I would have come up with an entirely different interpretation of the pages. Not sure. Whatever the case, I like where the flap took me, even as I suspect that some kids will have entirely different takes.

Tan’s strength here lies partly in the fact that these brothers command your equal respect. When I read the book through the first time I thought that the younger brother was the hero. A couple more reads and suddenly the older one started to get more and more sympathetic. Consider, for example, that very first shot of the two after the endpapers. The text reads, “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.” There, hunched against a fence, the two brothers huddle while a scarlet-hued red-eyed rabbit eyes the sock in question. The older brother has one arm protectively around the younger’s back and his other hand gently cupping his mouth. In later images the younger will mess something up and the older won’t bother to hide his frustrations. The lack of parents in this book is the only way to make it work. When kids deal with one another in the absence of adults, they make their own rules. Even when the elder sells his brother to a flock of birds for a dented crown (his least likable moment) you’re almost immediately back on his side when he rescues his little brother with a pair of bolt cutters a couple pages later. And honestly, what older brother and sister hasn’t fantasized at some point about selling off their annoying little brothers and sisters (see: The great Shel Silverstein poem “Brother for Sale”)? Tan is capable of seeing both sides of the sibling equation. Few picture books even dare.

Tan’s always had a bit of a fascination with the surreal world of middle class life. Suburbia is his Twilight Zone, and he hardly has to add any mechanical monsters or sentient birds to make it unusual. In Tales from Outer Suburbia it was language that primarily painted suburban Australia’s canvass. Here, words are secondary to the art. As I paged through I began to take note of some of the mechanics present on a lot of the pages. Water towers, oilrigs, and even the occasional nuclear power plant. Most beautiful and frightening were the extremely large structures holding the power lines. In one picture the younger brother plays a paddle-based game against a robot opponent while his older brother arbitrates. The sky is an overcast slate gray with these unnerving grids of line and metal towering over them in the background. Extra points if you can find the single black bird that makes an appearance on almost every spread until that climatic moment when it no longer appears.

RulesSummer3 300x168 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanEven the endpapers of this book have the power to make you sit and stare for long periods of time. They inspire a feeling that is just impossible to put into words. The endpapers are also the place where Tan makes it clear that he’s going to be playing with light quite a lot in this book. For a fun time, try to figure out where the light source is coming from in each and every one of the book’s pictures. Sometimes it’s evident. Other times, the answer could well be its own little story.

The thickness to Tan’s paints also marks this as significantly different from some of his other books. Nowhere is this more evident than the cover. Look at the Picasso-like grassy field where the older brother scowls at his younger sibling. The midday sun, the paints so thick you feel like the cover would feel textured if you stroked it, and even the pure blue of the noonday sky has a different Tan tone than you’re used to.

I don’t know if Tan has sons of his own. I don’t particularly care. For all I know the inspiration behind this book came from a relationship with his own brother at an early age. Wherever it might have appeared, one cannot help but feel that Tan knows from whence he illustrates. Thanks to films like Frozen we’re seeing an uptick in interest in stories about siblings of the same gender. Brothers have a tendency to tricky to render on the page (see: the aforementioned Dandelion Wine) but it can be done. Tan has perfectly rendered one such relationship with all its frustrations, betrayals, fights, complaints and deep, enduring love. This book sympathizes with those kids, regardless of their birth order. The rules of childhood are built on shifting sands, causing children everywhere to look longingly at the seeming sanity of adulthood. It’s only when they cross over that these kids will find themselves nostalgic for a time of outsized rules and their overblown importance. Without a doubt, the best book about what summer means to child siblings I’ve ever read.

On shelves April 29th.

Source: Galley acquired at ALA Conference for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: Australian Comics Journal

Interviews: Gillo talks to Shaun Tan about the book here.


  • The book is available as an app, with music by the hugely talented Sxip Shirey.
  • Download the Teacher’s Guide for the book here.
  • If you don’t mind knowing as much as Tan himself knows about this book, you can read his commentary about each image here. And yes, he was quite close to his own older brother growing up.  So that solves that mystery.


Seven videos about this book exist on Tan’s website.  Check ‘em out if you’ve half a mind to.

And here’s a sneaky peek at the aforementioned app:

And here’s an interview with him about the book on ABC RN:


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11. SCBWI NY Conference Recap

The SCBWI NY conference was incredible. There just is no other word for it. The staff was very helpful and I was impressed at how smoothly everything ran. They provided delicious breakfast breads and coffee (!!!!) each morning and the cocktail party was stunning and so yummy. I ate way too much of that sweet potato dish.

Here's a picture of me with Kit Grindstaff and Ruth Setton at the social.

I took tedious notes throughout the conference and if you followed the Twitter hashtag #NY13SCBWI you'll find my brief comments along with many others.

Here's a picture of my MiG crit partners: Andrea Mack, Susan Laidlaw, Kate Fall and Carmella Van Vleet. So fun hanging out with them!

I found the conference inspiring, and within it, many gems of wisdom that I can use in my own writing.

Some brief thoughts thoughts of the weekend:

Meg Rosoff had some great things to say about writing for children and to not get discouraged when others ask: "When are you going to write a real book? Like for adults?" She also encourages writers to: "Be flexible"

For my breakout session, I went to Molly O'Neil- she's encourages writers to write with authenticity and heart.

Here's the line of books that Molly has edited.

Next I went to hear Francoise Bui because of her focus on characterization. Her three points were to build great characters you need voice, characterization and texture with in the story.

Shaun Tan, an illustrator, spoke about the importance to not fear failure. This helps us to be free to create and experiment. Knowing that you can throw out your work allows you to be uninhibited to create. I just loved that.

Margaret Peterson Haddix reminded us that we must write a book for the kid that doesn't like to read. If we can do that, then the kids who do like to read will love it, too.

Julie Andews spoke with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. I was amazed by Andrew's presence, which seemed to fill the entire room. The two of them talked about brainstorming and then plotting since they need to work with each other to get the job done. They use a web cam for most of their writing sessions.

Since they write multiple books in a series, they realized they needed to keep the books balanced between the inevitable and the element of surprise, which can be tricky.

Finally, Mo Williams raced to the podium and then around the room. He was great and I laughed so hard hearing him speak. Williams urged us to go deeper, write what we don't know and understand so that we can explore new emotions within ourselves. He also said to not be afraid to ask the tough questions.

Here's a link of great advice on Mo's 9 steps of writing.

Oh, and I loved this line Williams said, "Writing is like a sale at the Gap. Take off 20%!"

Such a great experience. I would highly recommend this conference!

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12. Fabulous Kids Authors & Illustrators at SCBWI NY

Susanne Kathleen Jennifer Whistler (Swiss) Chris Cheng NY SCBWILoved the SCBWI Conference – :

Brilliant Meg Rostoff who is witty and realistic and more

Shaun Tan who had the audience standing and cheering – a fabulous Australian and world illustrator!

Mo Williams who is definitely a stand up comic

Julie Andrew who had us all humming Sounds of Music

Best selling authors including Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, Lin Oliver and Theo Baker, Ellen Hopkins …. and more.

Susanne gervay Lin Oliver Frane Lessac, SCBWIFrane Lessac, Chris Cheng and I were there representing the Aussie and New Zealand contingent.

Our fabulous international leader Kathleen Ahrens was there from Hong Kong

The speakers were wonderful, but loved the delegates even more – from all over the USA, Europe and Asia – friends through children’s books

Bruce Hale and Jane Yolen NY SCBWIA privilegeNew York SCBWI Feb 2013 017


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13. The Autograph Party

Almost the moment Mo Willems' keynote speech ended, people started lining up to get their books signed and we kid you not, the line ran the length of a football field (that's 100 yards, for those of you unfamiliar with the sport, or 91.44 meters if you're Canadian).

It's no wonder people are so excited to have their books inscribed, when you share the room with the likes of Julie Andrews, Mo Willems, Shaun Tan, Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaolo ...

We could and should go on, but we'll let the pictures speak for themselves. 

Mo Willems

Shaun Tan fans standing in a queue (do they say that in Australia?)

Shaun Tan

Mark Teague and Floyd Cooper

Meg Rosoff and David Ezra Stein

Lin Oliver and Theo Baker

Tomie DePaola and Jane Yolen

Margaret Peterson Haddix and Matthew Kirby

Arthur Levine is a full-service editor. Here, he's opening
the book to the right page for an inscription.

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14. We're So Trendy! SCBWI No. 1 on Twitter

Our conference was the No. 1 trending subject on Twitter today...

Until Shaun Tan spoke. No one's bigger!

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15. Shaun Tan Keynote: "Internal Migrations"

Shaun Tan

We, his audience, listening with a growing sense of wonder 

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and currently works as an artist, author and film-maker in Melbourne. Books such as The Rabbits, The Red Tree, Tales From Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, feature film concept artist, and wrote and directed the Academy Award winning animated short The Lost Thing. In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden for his body of work. His most recent publication is The Bird King.

Shaun prefaces by saying that ultimately the truth of what he wants to say is in his actual work.

He shares flashes of insight...

the truths that I'm most interested in are the ones you can't speak about directly

we work in little bubbles, bumping into each other

he's interested in migration, crossing borders, transitions, the idea of a strange encounter, like in his amazing book, "The Arrival"

we forget our everyday world is really exotic, we see it so much we're sort of blind to it - the dark side of familiarity, where we stop appreciating the ordinary.

He reads us one of his stories, "Eric" (from "Tales From Outer Suburbia")

The room is captivated, and there's a huge AWWW... at the end.

Now he's discussing the themes of the story and how he followed the thread, saying

Again, some things can't be communicated directly.

He's talking (and showing slides) of other artists who captured seemingly unimportant things and found the beauty (and stories) in them, photos of his own studio that reveal much about his process, and images of close-to-his-home domestic scenes that inspire him.  (We're seeing paintings and drawings, and even his sketchbooks!)

He's speaking now of exploring otherness and showing sketches he's done from museums of things foreign to him, saying:

"Drawing is the process of figuring out why I like things."

The most delicious part of his talk are his captioned illustrations that crack us up, explaining a 'typical' day.  One drawing reads "stumble across my own consciousness in the kitchen - what time is it?"

It's whimsical, mystical and fascinating, just like Shaun!

There's so much more, and this moment still resonates from Shaun's keynote:

"I know a story is good when I can't entirely explain what it's about"

Want to hear more of Shaun's remarkable thoughts? You can check out our pre-conference interview, and his great website, and see some of his sketches yourself in his new "The Bird King and other sketches" but it was a delight to be able to hear him in person.

We're even getting a preview of his current work in progress...And we end with a standing ovation!

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16. What happens when you give but don’t know how it is received?

On Friday my mum lent us her copy of Eric by Shaun Tan. On Saturday there was a wonderful newspaper interview of Shaun Tan, an interview by Neil Gaiman, no less, where the two author’s discussed the genesis of Eric’s story. And then on Sunday all the girls (and I) wanted to do was play “Eric”.

Eric is a foreign exchange student who has come to stay. His host family do their best to make Eric feel welcome but they never feel quite sure that Eric is enjoying his stay with them. And then one day, “with little more than a wave and a polite goodbye” Eric departs. The host family feel uneasy and a little confused until they find the secret Eric has left behind, a secret that shows Eric has indeed had a wonderful time.

Tan’s moving, thoughtful story is funny and profound; we cannot know the seeds we are planting with our behaviour and actions. But Eric allows us to believe that if we give people the space and time they need, if we are kind and generous, beautiful things will grow.

Eric also reminds me that even if people appear unmoved, uninvolved, they are not without emotion and internal life. Indeed, in the Guardian interview, Tan admits that Eric is perhaps a little autobiographical in this regard:

As an adolescent people would always say I was not expressive and they always made the mistake of thinking that I didn’t feel anything, because I didn’t react to things. My mind reacts but usually a long time after the fact – if something exciting happens I’ll just sort of go “okaaaay, let me process that”, and then three days later I’m excited about it, when everyone else has left the room.

Eric is a treasure of a book, the perfect book to match with the Chinese saying “A book is like a garden carried in your pocket”. It does fit perfectly in a pocket (or a Christmas stocking) and encourages us reflect with curiosity and trust on cultural differences (a recurring theme in Tan’s work) and how, even if differences are initially confounding they enrich our world.


Playing “Eric” is a variant of a very popular game in our home, “Mummy knows nothing”. It’s a game in which M and J get to explain what everything and anything is, and how the world works. Eric / Mummy doesn’t know that that thing on the wall is a bookcase. They think it is a fridge. M and J get to be the clever ones and explain what it really is. Eric / Mummy thinks what M and J call a bed is actually a trampoline (where on earth would I get that idea from?), so the girls go into lots of detail describing how to use a bed.

M and J share this delight with the narrator of Eric:

Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions.

3 Comments on What happens when you give but don’t know how it is received?, last added: 12/5/2011
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17. Shaun Tan’s The Arrival Is Set to a Musical Score

Thanks to Zoe Toft at Playing by the Book for alerting me to this video of Shaun Tan’s award winning book The Arrival set to a musical score on the Sydney Opera House’s website.

Watch highlights of Shaun Tan’s visual masterpiece The Arrival featuring a live score by Ben Walsh and The Orkestra of the Underground.

The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images. With his Orkestra of the Underground, Ben Walsh pooled a diverse range of musical talent and composed a score to accompany Tan’s beautiful illustrations in a rare and unique audio-visual experience.

Click here to watch

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18. Week-end Book Reviews: The Bird King And Other Sketches by Shaun Tan


Shaun Tan,
The Bird King and Other Sketches
Templar Publishing (UK), 2011; first published by Windy Hollow Books (Australia), 2010.

Ages 9 +

Shaun Tan’s beautifully produced sketchbook, The Bird King, generously lays bare the creative process of illustration. While not specifically designed for children, Tan’s familiar images are of instant, near-universal appeal, and his explanatory text will be a revelation to young fans, especially aspiring artists.

Tan’s introduction references Klee’s famous description of drawing as “taking a line for a walk.” The colored and black-and-white drawings are divided into sections. Images in which “one little drawing is enough” to suggest a whole story comprise the untold stories section. In book, theatre and film, Tan describes his preliminary sketches as “a constant reminder of what I was ‘getting at’ in the first place” during longer creative processes. In drawings from life, we see “ongoing studies in the relationship of line, form, colour and light” that are crucial to an artist’s lifelong process of learning to see. A final section, notebooks, is culled from small ball point pen sketches, doodles and scribbles, some “an equivalent to daydreaming” that Tan poetically compares to fishing: “casting loose lines into a random sea… catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden beneath the waves.”

The drawings themselves also include little notes, ideas for development, and titles that further decipher the artist’s visual language. One double-page drawing entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” features a dozen of Tan’s creatures marching behind a small boy, bird on his head, palette in hand. The only color on the page is a splash of orange dropping from his brush, repeated on the body of a goldfish, held aloft in a bowl, by a large creature with a diving bell head in which a bird in a beret stands at the wheel. In Tan’s quixotic imagination, the robotic and the humanizing hover in edgy balance.

The production quality of this small hardcover book is excellent. Partially bound in red cloth, with embossed lettering on the front cover, it’s held closed with a red elastic band; a blue ribbon bookmark is sewn into the binding. The back matter includes a list of the drawings in the book (noting materials used and the original purpose of each sketch) and a bibliography of Tan’s published works.

Young artists will learn more from studying the lines Tan takes for a walk than from any number of art classes. Children who already know and love books by the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner will recognize preliminary sketches of work from favorite books. For newcomers, The Bird King is a great introduction to this evocative Australian writer-illustrator.

Charlotte Richardson
February 2012

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19. Top 100 Picture Books #65: The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2006)

#65 The Arrival by Shaun Tan
30 points

This book is Epic. It doesn’t just “tell” an immigrant’s story, it magically (or I suppose, skillfully) brings us INTO the very experience. - Aaron Zenz

Because it’s a richly imagined, beautifully rendered, wordless graphic narrative of immigration, dislocation, and hope. - Phillip Nel

#68 then. #65 now.  There’s no question it belongs on this list.

So is it a picture book?  Well, let’s see.  It tells a story entirely with pictures and not a single word (or, at least, not a single word we can understand).  You might call it a graphic novel too, except it eschews thought bubbles and speech balloons.  Yet it does break itself into panels quite often… but can’t the same be said of many picture books, like The Adventures of Polo and the like?  Is there an age limit to it?  Maybe (there are some scary scenes) but when do children stop reading picture books?  Many read them for years, though often on the sly when around peers or siblings.

I hereby proclaim that until someone can pin down a definite genre for a book as amazing, miraculous, and downright fun as The Arrival, here it shall remain on this Top 100 Books poll.

My review back in the day of it said this about the plot: “A man prepares to leave his family for a new world. Tearfully they let him go as he boards a ship for another land. Once he arrives, however, he finds himself at a loss. Everything from the language to the buildings to the birds is strange here. The reader of this book sympathizes easily with the man since author/illustrator Shaun Tan has created a world that is just as odd to us as it is to our protagonist. Appliances consist of confusing pulls and toggles. People live and work in plate and cone-shaped structures, traveling via dirigibles and strange ship-shaped machinations of flight. As the man proceeds to discover how to find lodging, food, and work, he meets other immigrants who tell their own stories of hardship and escape. Through all this, our man grows richer for his experiences and even grows to love the odd little white-legged cat-sized tadpole creature that follows him everywhere. By the end, his family has arrived as well and the last image in the book is of his daughter as she helps another immigrant get directions in this dazzling and magnificent city.”

Are there those amongst ye who have not read this book?  Then go to it.  I could wax rhapsodic for days on end about the power and beauty of this story, but I’ll let the experts do it for me.

The New York Times said of it, ” ‘The Arrival’ tells not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story. . . The effect is mesmerizing. Reading ‘The Arrival’ feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic.”

Booklist said, “Filled with subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form.”

The Washington Post
said, “Hundreds of sepia-toned drawings, some tiny, some panoramic, all pulsing with detail, combine to produce an effect reminiscent of silent movies or mime, the absence of words forcing the eye and the brain to work harder.”

And Kirkus said, “It’s an unashamed paean to the immigrant’s spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect.”

As of this post, Shaun Tan has still not had a chance to visit Ellis Island.  And any questions you might have about the

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20. IBBY Congress LONDON- Crossing Boundaries – Here we come!

IBBY, Frane Lessac, Mark Greenwood, Shaun Tan, Susanne gervay's 'Ships in the Field' speaking at IBBY Congress London 2012International Books for Young People – IBBY – we’re on our way to London.


Crossing Boundaries: Translations and Migrations, to be held at Imperial College, London, from 23rd to 26th August 2012.

It’s going to be fantastic and I get to see friends from all over the world.

Ned Kelly and the Green Sash by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac, Ned Kelly on display at The HughendenShaun Tan, Mark  Greenwood, Frane Lessac – the fantastic Aussie contingent of authors/illustrators from the West are coming.

Can’t wait to speak about ‘Ships in the Field’  on a panel with Marjorie Coughlan editor of Paper Tigers

Picture Books about Migration

Zeynep Bassa (Author and Illustrator, Turkey)
Picture Books on the Theme of Migration in Germany
Questions of migration, discrimination, social marginalisation and integration appear as newly emerging topics in children’s books. Based partially on the author’s personal experiences as a migrant mother of two children in Germany and from work with migrant children, this paper reviews some of the children’s books published in Germany on the subjects of tolerance and acceptance of different identities.

Marjorie Coughlan 
(Editor, Paper Tigers, U.K.)
Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: picture books that relate refugee stories, and their importance
Attention is drawn to picture books in English from around the world about children and young people who have been forced from their homes because of conflict. These are stories that need to be told, whether they are biographical or fictionalised accounts, for understanding of the past, healing in the present, and hope for the future.

Anna Pignataro's illustration of 'Ships in the Field' by Susanne GervaySusanne Gervay (Author, Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrato

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21. Must Read: Shaun Tan on ideas and art

Drop everything! Paul Gravett has interviewed Shaun Tan! The Oscar winning artist of The Arrival, The Lost Thing and many other picture books is one of the most admired illustrators working today, and although Tan’s work often ends up being “comics” in that it is sequential, pictorial storytelling, as this interview makes clear, doing anything like comics is only something he backed into:

I think you’re building a mature relationship with comics without too many preconceived ideas. I think if you’d been immersed in them since childhood, perhaps you’d have had a system in place that would have been difficult to escape from?

Yeah I would have taken them for granted. But as it is, comics seemed quite a strange way of telling a story which is what intrigues me. My attraction to picture books was word-picture relationships and how pared down they can be and still make sense and also have these big gaps in between. The best comics maximise this relationship between language and image that’s not explanatory. They’re both doing different functions. It’s quite a natural extension, but that said I don’t feel like a comics artist.

Tan also talks about his inspirations:

This guy called Aki, an IT specialist from Helsinki, came to stay with us for two weeks. We set up a bedroom for him. In the Eric story, the exchange student prefers to sleep in the kitchen pantry, which is tolerated because the family want him to be comfortable. When Aki was staying with us, he would get on with his studies, bent over a book, reading intently, I could see him through the gap in the door. Whenever I am doing an illustration, no matter how fanciful it is, there is always some reference to something in my own life. Not to be autobiographical but because it helps me draw the picture. It helps you project emotion into the picture. It’s very difficult to just draw things without feeling.

Much much more insight into Tan’s works and his method in the link.

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22. IBBY, Hans Christian Anderson Awards 2012 and Peter Sis

Awards, translations, migrations and a mix of people from 52 countries, were all part of the hectic week-end that comprised the International IBBY Conference hosted by IBBY UK here in London at the end of August.

There were too many absolutely brilliant workshops and talks to identify individually. UK authors and illustrators - Michael Rosen, Marcus Sedgewick, Michael Morourgo, Aiden Chambers and Anthony Browne were there but into the mix came other heady spice, texture and flavour from international experts in children’s literature and luminaries such as Shaun Tan, Peter Sis, Bart Moeyaert and Kitty Crowther, winner of the Astrid Lingen Award for Illustration.

Highlight of the week-end had to be the Hans Christian Andersen Ceremony with the Author award going to María Teresa Andruetto from Argentina and Illustrator award going to Peter Sis from the Czech Republic. I couldn’t help feeling that the venue of the Science Museum at night with its surreal spotlights was the perfect setting for Peter Sis’s drawings. The machines seem to take on a life of their own...

Some of the work of the short-listed illustrators and some IBBY Honour titles are shown below - exciting, unusual, different.  For more events and people see Candy Gourlay’s blog.

The fine linear work of Roger Mello from Brazil who was short-listed...,

The work of Alenka Sottler, an illustrator from Slovenia, depicting the story of Cinderella - Pepelka - with almost Seurat-like pointillism.

In Piroulito and Rosalia Effie Lada from Greece has speech impaired characters wearing beautiful masks and Eg Kan Ikkje Sove No (I Can't Sleep Now) shows the wonderful silhouetted work of Oyvind Torsetter from Norway... and lots more, snapped at random.

And finally I was delighted to meet Australian author, Mark Greenwood and his illustrator wife, Frane Lessac from Freemantle...
delighted to have Peter Sis sign my books...
and delighted to be in the heady atmosphere of such creative energy. Thank you IBBY UK for playing such excellent hosts.

winner of two IBBY Honour Books (1994 and 2004)

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23. Poetry Friday ~ PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito

[Time is running out to enter our Tenth Anniversary Draw - the deadline is tomorrow - so if you haven't already, take a look here for the chance to win some fantastic prizes for you or your school or library]

Sally Ito is a poet, editor and translator living in Winnipeg, Canada, where she also teaches Creative Writing; she is currently writer.  Sally was  a book reviewer and contributor to the PaperTigers blog until earlier this year and wrote many of our contributions to Poetry Friday during that time (which is why we decided to post Sally’s selection on a Poetry Friday day!).  So we are delighted to welcome her back with her Top Ten list of favourite books, encountered through her work with PaperTigers.

As a prelude, do listen to Sally reading the title poem from her collection Alert to Glory (Turnstone Press, 2011) in the video below.

My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito

When I joined the Paper Tigers blog contributor team in 2008, the thing I was most excited about was getting to read and review great multicultural books for kids.  What I discovered was a plethora of wonderful books that reflected who I was culturally and who my community was, culturally, as well.  From my short time with PaperTigers, these are my ten picks of multicultural books for kids.  It’s a little Japan-heavy, I realize but I hope you indulge my bias!

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin, 2008) – I found this quirky picture book amazing and it was an inspiration for me when I was teaching to take my creative writing students out into our immediate neighborhood (an historic district called The Exchange) in Winnipeg to see what we could make of our environment in a creative way.

Naomi’s Tree by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2008).  This book is about a cherry tree and a Japanese Canadian girl who grew up with it and was separated from it by the circumstances of the Second World War.  This book was a personal favorite since the author’s history reflects my own family’s in Canada.

Granny’s Giant Bannock by Brenda Isabel Wastasecoot, illustrated by Kimberly McKay-Fleming (Pemmican, 2008).  This is one hilarious book about a Cree-speaking grandmother and her grandson Larf who accidentally bakes a giant bannock by misunderstanding his grandmother’s instructions on how to make the doughy confection from scratch.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano (Scholastic, 2009).  This book is a translation of a popular fantasy series that was also made into a TV series.  The story is set in early imperial Japan and features a woman warrior named Balsa who protects the son of the emperor, Chagum, as he carries within him a spirit from another dimension who must lodge in a human host in order to survive.

The Song of the Cicada by Shizue Ukaji.  This is a Japanese book, yet untranslated into English, that I discovered while living in Japan in 2011.  It’s an Ainu folktale illustrated with textile creations made by Ukaji herself.  It’s the story of a woman who prophesies disaster – namely a tsunami – to her people and what becomes of her as a result.  A timely read for the year I was visiting the country.

The Fox’s Window and Other Stories by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei.  This is a collection of short stories spanning a career of writing by Japanese author Naoko Awa.  Magical, enchanting and absorbing are the words I’d use to describe these stories, which have also been referred to as ‘modern fairytales.’

David’s Trip to Paraguay by Miriam Rudolph.  A bilingual book with German and English text, this story is about a young Mennonite boy named David who travels to Paraguay from Canada in the late 1920s.  Rudolph, an artist, charts the arduous journey with vivid and colorful illustrations of the things David sees on the trip.

Gifts: Poems for Parents edited by Rhea Tregebov (Sumach Press, 2002).  We say we read to our children for their sake, but it’s just as true that we read to feed ourselves, too.  Poetry is a kind of bread for the soul, and this particular treasury of poems by Canadians really fed me as a poet and a parent.

Bifocal by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters.  This is one book I read in part with my son, who later went on to have the book assigned to him for his English class in junior high school.  It’s about two teenagers – Haroon and Jay – who have to negotiate their cultural identities during a tense lockdown situation at their high school.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie.  I started covering graphic novels for PaperTigers a few years ago as I felt this was a developing trend in books for young people.  And this book was one of my favorites!  Aya is about a young woman growing up in Cote D’Ivoire, looking to become a medical student, but whose life is inevitably shaped and influenced by those around her with less lofty goals than her.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Ed at Think Kid, Think – head on over.

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24. Pre-#NY13SCBWI Interview with Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and currently works as an artist, author and film-maker in Melbourne. Books such as "The Rabbits," "The Red Tree," "Tales From Outer Suburbia" and the acclaimed wordless novel "The Arrival" have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theater designer, feature film concept artist, and wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning animated short "The Lost Thing."  In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden for his body of work. His most recent publication is "The Bird King."

Shaun will be giving a Keynote address the Saturday February 2, 2013 of the upcoming 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference, titled "Internal Migrations."

I was so fortunate in this interview with Shaun to ask him about working in the magical space "between familiarity and strangeness," find out what he does when he has a creative emergency, get his advice about endings that resonate, and so much more! 

I'm in awe of his work, and now I'm even more excited to see Shaun speak in person!

How about you?  There are a limited number of spaces still available for the Saturday and Sunday of the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference (the Friday intensives have sold out.) You can find out more details and register here.

Illustrate and Write On,

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25. Show Not Tell, said Maureen crossly.

By Maureen Lynas Look, I'm cross. Can't you tell? Do I have to actually spell it out for you! Grrrrrrrrr I once attended an excellent weekend course run by Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Each day was split into sessions based on plot, character, settings etc. and all was well until we reached the session on ‘Show Not Tell’ Blank looks all round. Explanations were given. Examples

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