An ultra-imaginative picture book containing three very different stories for "kids" of all ages, with over 100 of Shaun Tan's colorful, surreal and sometimes phantasmagorical paintings and illustrations.
"The Red Tree," written and illustrated by Tan features a red-haired girl who lets her imagination run wild with awful thoughts, expressed by Tan as fantastic, detailed surrealistic cartoons, all but three of which are rendered in somber colors. The girl's mood is dark until she emerges from her ennui when she sees a little red bud which develops into a full-grown, brilliant tree.
Full-page and double-page spreads of Tan's artwork featured between the stories would look wonderful matted and framed, hanging on a wall. I especially liked the reproduction of his 77 bottle caps assemblage with a sepia physics cartoon as a base. Each of the 7x11 bottle caps is illustrated with a math or physics equation, directional symbols, words or sentence fragments and one painting. There is also an alluring scene of long-legged black and white birds standing in blue pond.
My favorite of the three, "The Lost Thing," written by Tan and jam-packed with his wondrous illustrations, is about a boy who finds a weird creature and takes it home with him. The story unfolds as the boy tries to help The Lost Thing find the place where it belongs. Humorous storyline and art are underscored by droll mechanical drawings in sepia tones. One particular painting toward the end of this story ("what seemed to be the right place" for The Lost Thing) emerges as a work of pure genius, combining elements and inspiration from art as diverse as Hieronymus Bosch to Joan Miro, Salvador Dali to Giorgio de Chirico to Marcel Duchamp.
"The Rabbits," written by John Marsden, and illustrated with diverse art by Tan is about rabbits who came, saw and conquered a continent, possibly Australia. The rabbits are strange, anthropomorphized, trussed in formal clothing and French military uniforms. They have peculiar ears. And their reproduction is way out of control.
The entire book is very stimulating for anyone who appreciates art and ideas presented with imagination, skill and humor. It brings to mind Einstein's phrase, "...imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."
This book should be in every school library as a readily available resource for students of art and writing, in particular, as a source of inspiration. And it should be in every classroom as a source of pure enjoyment and discourse for all students.