Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Rules of Summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780734410672
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Shaun Tan's magnificently illustrated picture books are in a class of their own.

Rules of Summer, Tan shows the interaction between two young boys, one older, one younger, possibly brothers, in his illustrations rather than a storyline. Each picture is preceded by a rule, e.g., Never leave a red sock on the clothesline, and it is up to the reader to imagine what is reflected or meant in the artwork. Tan suggests each illustration is a particular kind of childhood experience which centres around the activities of these two boys. In his own words, "It is a relationship that is both friendly and caring but also antagonistic, and towards the end of the book begins to disintegrate before finding some kind of redemption and coming together again."
Tan is obviously excited about the concept of the readers using their own imagination to decide upon what is happening, and his enthusiasm is contagious. The book can be opened at any page as there is no actual linear plot, and the reader can ponder and interpret the meaning for as long or short a time as is found to be necessary to enjoy each experience.
The richly painted illustrations are indeed a mysterious puzzle, some offering more clues than others. When the rule is Never step on a snail, the older boy's fear of retribution as the younger ones prepares to carry out this action is mirrored by the looming tornado. Does the reader empathise with the older boy or enjoy a little black humour? The freedom to make one's own judgement is refreshing.
Shaun Tan drew upon his own personal experiences such as fishing with his older brother, and buildings inspired by Brunswick and greater Melbourne to create this evocative picture book which will be appreciated by the thoughtful, both adult and young.

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