Tag archives: Shaun Tan

Monday, 22 June 2015

The importance of picture books – articles, links, publications and some great quotes

I love children’s picture books and I am always delighted when I’m asked for courses about using them. Announcement day for the prestigious Greenaway Award for best illustrated children’s book seems like the ideal time draw attention to useful blogs, publications and websites about picture books. And I can’t resist including some powerful quotes, to demonstrate the enormous value of this fabulous and very diverse medium.

grillFirst of all though, a mention of the Greenaway winner. Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill is a fabulous non-fiction picture book with stunning illustrations. It was moving to hear Grill talk at the award ceremony about his struggles with reading as a child, and his desire to create books that are accessible for children who find reading difficult.

Levi Pinfold says ‘The joy of picture books is how much you soak in without realising it. Judging things by what you see has just as much meaning as fiction.’

I am a huge fan of Shaun Tan’s books, and I very much admire what he says about picture books: ‘For me, a successful picture book is one in which everything is presented to the reader as a speculative proposition, wrapped in invisible quotation marks, as if to say “what do you make of this?” ’ As Mary Roche says in her book listed below ‘There is no space here for passive listening.’

I loathe the view that picture books are just for young children. So does Mathew Tobin, and he’s written an excellent piece about their importance for all ages. Trevor Cairney’s blog Why older readers should read picture books is valuable too, as is Picture books for all on the British Council site. Anthony Browne tells us ‘Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination.’ Here’s Shaun Tan again: ‘There is an appealing simplicity of form, which is not to say that it is necessarily simple: The restrained coupling of text and image can contain any level of poetic sophistication or complexity.’

All of these websites and books are very well worth a look:

  • Marianne Bradnock, Picture Books from 0 to 90, School Library Association, 2015, ISBN 9781903446850
  • Illustrated Books
  • Picture Book Den
  • Mary Roche, Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picture Books, Routledge, 2014, ISBN 9780415727723
  • Martin Salisbury, 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks, Lauence King, 2015, ISBN 9781780674087
  • Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Laurence King, 2012, ISBN 9781856697385
  • Talking Beyond the Page: Reading and Responding to Picture Books, ed. Janet Evans, Routledge, 2009, ISBN 9780415476966

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Shaun Tan at the Wonderlands Children’s Literature Festival

I was very lucky last night to attend an event with Shaun Tan at the British Library. He gave fascinating insights into his creative life and the artistic, emotional and intellectual processes underlying his picture books.

Tan’s focus has been art ever since being labelled a ‘good drawer’ at primary school. To this day he uses the light box his father made him. 95% of his work is done by hand rather than digitally, mostly using techniques learnt at school. He showed slides of wonderful published and unpublished drawings, and a clip from the film of Lost Thing.

Lost Thing
was influenced in part by Orwell’s writings. Political ideas are often the starting point for his books, though by the time they’re finished the politics are well in the background. He never aims to change the world, though is pleased that The Arrival has altered some people’s views on immigration. In any case, political concerns are secondary in his work to personal and emotional issues. The Red Tree is intensely personal. To an extent he creates his books as a form of therapy, a way to explore his anxieties.

Tan is drawn to the strange and surreal in literature and art. He questions the concept of normality. He loves characters who are baffled, anonymous, displaced. Difference is a abiding theme in his books, partly because of his background as a mixed-race child in a monocultural Australian suburb, though he believes feelings of difference are universal. Most of his works are open to interpretation. He deliberately works on his drawings until he is baffled himself. His early drafts do too much interpretation for the reader. He strips them down, removing moralising endings for example, to rid them of his opinions. He likes to ask questions rather than answer them.

I love Tan’s books and often showcase them on courses about children’s reading or picture books. It was great to hear about their inception, and their creator.