The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

The Red TreeI actually read The Red Tree last year and has re-read it a few more times since then. It is largely a picture book, with the most beautiful whole page or 2-page illustrations featuring a melancholy red-headed little girl. “sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to” is how it’s started.

“The Red Tree began an experimental narrative more than anything else: the idea of a book without a story. I’ve always loved Chris Van Allsburg’s classic picture book ‘The Mysteries of Harris Burdick’ (1984) which is a great example of word-picture enigmas, exhibiting partial fragments of unknown stories and leaving the reader to use their imagination. It has no sequential narrative, which is something a picture book is ideal for – you can open it at any page, go backwards or forwards, and spend as much time as you wish with each image.” ~ Shaun Tan’s comment on The Red Tree

I was intrigued when he mentioned Chris Van Allsburg. Never heard of him before. A quick browse of his name showed that not only he’s a very successful author and illustrator, of books that have been made into films like Jumanji and Polar Express, but also how close his artwork style is to Tan’s. It’s easy to see where Tan got his inspirations from. The images reminded me distinctly of The Arrival. I’ll be sure to look out for his books in near future!

Going back to The Red Tree, it contains ones of the strongest images that I have seen several times featured by other bloggers. And the book is as good as everyone raves it to be. It’s really hard to imagine The Red Tree to be read by little children, fairly dark and depressing as it is, even though it ends with a hopeful note. (In case you missed it–I did, there’s a small almost unnoticed red leaf at every page, symbolizing hope)

The Red Tree

“nobody understands”

The Red Tree

“sometimes you just don’t know what you are supposed to do”

The Red Tree

“or who you are meant to be”

The Red Tree is such a beautiful book. Every page could stand on its own as a surreal painting. I love having it in my Shaun Tan personal library.

5 stars
2001, 32pp

The Red Tree as puppet-based theatre production (Queensland, 2004) — with some spectacular images

Also reviewed by
su[shu] | things mean a lot | mental foodie

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

lost-thingA few months ago after knowing about The Lost Thing made into a short film and meeting Shaun Tan himself, I determined to read all his books. The Lost Thing and The Red Tree came to the top of my list. Ordered both from Book Depo and read both soon after (I’ll save The Red Tree review for later). Both cost less than $10 (the paperback) and they’re so worth every cent. Books that I love to have as my permanent collection.

Describing Shaun Tan’s books as picture books for adults can’t be more true than in the case of The Lost Thing. I’m not sure how it far it could resonate with kids. For me it shook my soul a little bit, as his books always do.

Storyline is simple. From Shaun Tan’s description at his website:

The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice it’s presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature, and attempts to find out where it belongs.

The Lost Thing itself I always knew would be red and big, so very noticeable, which makes us wonder why nobody really notices it (this is the key question of the story, for which there is no single answer).


The Lost Thing likes to eat Christmas decorations

Apparently there could be different interpretations of what the Lost Thing actually represents. While reading it though it seemed very clear to me that the Lost Thing is a thing that is important to us, so huge, so noticeable. It’s taking our entire world and yet you wonder why people just don’t see it the same way. That they just don’t care. Don’t you have things like that in your life? I do. Especially, perhaps, back when I was younger. Back when lots of things were important, to me, and people kept saying that they didn’t matter, not after you’ve grown older and learned more about the world. Annoying, but for most things, are sadly true.


In essence, The Lost Thing comments on the sense of being lost, of not belonging, which seems to be the recurrent theme I found in his works. Probably caused by experience as an Asian growing up in Australia many years ago?

The illustrations are stunning. There is no empty space within the pages. Even the gaps between panels that are usually white for normal comics are full of doodles and collages. The book is an absolute keeper. Love.

shaun tan

5 stars
1999, 32pp

The Lost Thing @

Shaun Tan’s Short Film: The Lost Thing

Don’t know how I missed this, but I was so excited to find out about this short a few minutes ago! The short is part of Sydney Film Festival last month and will take part in Melbourne International Film Festival later this year. It is based on Shaun Tan’s book The Lost Thing (1999). He’s been working with a Melbourne-based small team from 2002 to 2010 for this 15 minutes short. It’s 3D with 2D hand-painted textures. Like all Shaun Tan’s I think it’s amazing! Love! I haven’t read the book, but I will surely do so now, and also look for the film!

Find out more about the film from Shaun Tan’s website (many images from the book, concept arts, and the film)

The official website (A very pretty site!)

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

If you have been a reader of my blog for .. oh.. about 5 minutes, you’d know that I luurrvv Shaun Tan. After the amazing Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Arrival, I have intended to go through all his back catalogue, even if that means I need to venture into the children’s section of my library, towering like a gigantic being among the little young uns’.

Shaun Tan’s books are classified as Picture Books, though according to him:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, is partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. It features the weirdest looking rabbits I have ever seen. Like always, Tan’s illustrations left me breathless.

I’ll let you soak in the glory of Shaun Tan’s world.

4 stars
1998, 32 pp

Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits

First line
The rabbits came many grandparents ago.

1999 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year
1999 Spectrum Gold Award for Book Illustration
1999 Aurealis Conveners’ Award for Excellence

Aussie Author (book #2), Book Awards IV (book #6), Once Upon a Time IV (book #1)

Also reviewed by
Beth Fish Reads

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Another lovely book from Shaun Tan.

The Arrival has no words, it’s all pictures (must be the easiest book to translate). And I almost have no words to describe it, because it’s so overwhelmingly good. The drawings, the imagination, it’s so out of this world that you feel you are transported to this magical majestic place.

Amazing amazing work.

The Arrival is a story about a man who leaves his family to a foreign place, to a new world for, like most if not all immigrants, a better life. ‘Strangers in strange lands’ is best to describe the theme.

The foreign-ness of the place, the sense of not belonging, the awe of seeing a different world, the strangeness of everyday’s details. It’s captured very well.

In fact, the wordlessness strengthens it.

I felt like I was watching a foreign movie with no subtitle. Or reading a book in a language I don’t understand. This is something I can really relate to– trying to find meanings in gesture, expression and body language. And that’s what the man in the story is trying to do too. I can understand his hardships. It’s like we’re trying to find our way together and are equally surprised with the unfamiliar.

What else can I say? Shaun Tan is a genius in expressing himself with visual art. I’m a huge fan. The Arrival is perfect for its kind.

I gave my dad the book to read. He finished it and said, spot on. This comes from a real live immigrant.


The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.

If you have read the book (or even if you haven’t), I encourage you to read Tan’s comments on The Arrival (it’s at the bottom after the series of pictures).





2006, 128 pp

I also reviewed another of his book: Tales from Outer Suburbia just last month, which I also gave perfect score. How biased am I?

2007 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Book of the Year and Community Relations Commission Award
Nominated for 2008 Hugo Award Best Related Book and Best Professional Artist

Also reviewed by

Tripping Toward Lucidity | Ready When You Are, C.B. | OF Blog of the Fallen | ReadingAdventures | Blogging for a Good Book | Ticket to Anywhere | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | Library Queue (with the most comprehensive awards list!) | | Rebecca Reads |

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of short stories. Some very short (a page or two), some a bit longer. And how fantastic they are! I love love love these stories! Or should I say the illustrations. I’m not sure which I like more: the artwork or the stories. They’re both amazing. I often feel that the stories illustrate the pictures than the usual other way around. I can imagine Shaun Tan first drew the illustrations first, then wrote a short story about them. Just a thought :) (and actually, I just read on his website that it was indeed what he did for Tales from Outer Suburbia)

tanTaken from

Tales from Outer Suburbia is an anthology of fifteen very short illustrated stories. Each one is about a strange situation or event that occurs in an otherwise familiar suburban world; a visit from a nut-sized foreign exchange student, a sea creature on someone’s front lawn, a new room discovered in a family home, a sinister machine installed in a park, a wise buffalo that lives in a vacant lot. The real subject of each story is how ordinary people react to these incidents, and how their significance is discovered, ignored or simply misunderstood.

Read his very detail thoughts on each story. It’s amazing how some images are so distinct from each other, as if they were drawn by different artists.

I read this book very slowly, savoring just one story or two each night, and found that it’s probably the best way for me to read short stories, particularly this book. Just don’t rush through them. I don’t think my words can even begin to explain to you how amazing Tan’s work is, so please! Get the book from anywhere you possibly can and have a taste yourself!

One of my favorite is called Distant Rain. “Have you ever wondered what happens to all the poems people write?” is the first sentence. The story is brought in dozens of pieces of paper, scattered across a few pages as if they are carried by the wind and rain, forgotten, neglected, yet powerful.


Grandpa’s Story is another of my favorite. The story is told alternatively between words and illustrations, but not like one page at a time like normal people do. It starts with 2 pages of words, then 8 continuous pages of illustrations, then some pages alternate between words and pictures. I have never ever read anything like this before. As if at one point, he just thought that pictures could explain it better than words, so he just started to draw. Pages and pages, until he started going with words again. He doesn’t care about format. That’s my thought anyway.


There are many more amazing pieces. There are 15 in total. Too bad I was reading a library book. When I get a chance, I think I will buy it for my collection. It’s just that good. I want to show it to my kids and grand-kids and grand-grand-kids. You get the idea.

More pictures below to convince you to get it. See, even the table of content is so out of this world (that’s the picture below).


Another of my favorite is alert but not alarmed. About how everybody has missile on their backyards. First as mean of defense, they started to make use of the missiles in anything other than its initial intention.



eric is another one of my favorite. (How many favorites have I pointed out by now?) Everyone, meet Eric. Eric is a foreign student. (I think he looks like fire)


And gosh, the water buffalo! I love The Water Buffalo! There’s just something about that image of water buffalo pointing. My childhood home used to be located just next to two empty fields where some local water buffaloes bath and feed. Perhaps that’s why I got so attached to this particular piece.


I fall in love. I do.

I should also let you know that he’s an Australian :)

2008, 98 pp

2009 Australian Book Industry Awards Illustrated Book of the Year

Also reviewed by

Stainless Steel Droppings (more pictures here!) | A High and Hidden Place | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | She Reads Books | Bending Bookshelf | Reading Rants! | Peeking Between the Pages | Monniblog | Read Write Believe | The Funky Rooster

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