It is commonly said that children’s publishing industry is the most innovative and surprising among all the publishing industries, and that, recently, storybooks for children have been reaching a degree of quality and depth that allow them to be equally enjoyed both by children and adults.
Shaun Tan, Australian illustrator, is a clear example of this: through his picture books (or tales, depending on how we want to see them) he tells us about very complex and serious stories in a simple and easy way that could be understood by any child, a child who will also enjoy the highest quality, the overflowing imagination and the breathtaking beauty of his compositions. But, at the same time, Shaun Tan books are plenty of symbols, poetry and winks that only an adult can fully capture and properly enjoy. And all this while you enjoy, like a child, their graphical component, such an outstanding work that has made him worthy of an Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 2011, thanks to his contribution to the short The Lost Thing, a film based on one of his earliest albums: a story about a young inhabitant of a retro-futuristic and oppressive city who finds a strange creature with tentacles apparently lost and from which he completely ignores its origin or purpose, a fact that does not impedes him to establish a sort of friendship with that “lost thing” that will eventually change his life.
Among some of the stories ever published by this great illustrator is interesting to highlight two examples:
Rabbits (1998) is a series of large colourful illustrations accompanied in each page by just a few words that tells the story of the arrival of a race of humanised rabbits to an unspoiled land. Those rabbit-colonists soon become ruthless invaders who use their more advanced technology to brutally transform the landscape, exploit the natural resources and massacre the ancient inhabitants, a kind of beings similar to an Australian numbat, a story that keeps deliberate and obvious parallelisms with the history of the Australian colonisation or with the conquer of any other land by Europeans.
The Arrival (2006) is a series of cartoons in comic-style and sepia tones narrating, without using a single word, the story of a man who emigrates to a huge, fantastic and exotic city remotely similar to our current New York, showing how slowly and laboriously he adapts to his new home, how he manages to find a job, how he contacts other immigrants like him already settled there years ago who help him make his own life much more easier, and how he finally manages to bring the family he had left behind to that new place, in a touching moment in which all of them finally meet again after so much waiting, distance and puzzling situations. All this in an imaginative environment that will not only be strange to the character but also to the reader, because of its surreal and fanciful scene, though full of parallels with our own history, and which will make the reader also a newcomer to a new world, making him feel as an emigrant too.
Shaun Tan has a website full of content and illustrations to enjoy, even if the real joy is to have in your own hands one of his amazing illustrated books: www.shauntan.net