Friday, November 22, 2013

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd November 2013 - "The Rules of Summer" by Shaun Tan (Hodder Children's Books)


The Rules of Summer

Written and Illustrated by
Shaun Tan

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Summer seems like a million miles away now, but as the final strains of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" fade from my internal jukebox, this book pops through the door like a ray of fresh sunshine. Shaun Tan's "Rules of Summer" is every bit as brilliant as we thought it would be.

Though don't be mistaken, this isn't a book that instantly screams "sunshine" and "happiness" at you. This is a Shaun Tan book and as you'll probably know if you're familiar with the genius work of Mr Tan, you seriously can't judge a book by its cover (though this book's cover is utterly fantastic and entrancing nonetheless).

How does Shaun Tan squeeze such brilliance from urban desolation? How does he mix child-like wonder and curiosity with sinister beasts and an ever-present feeling of danger and peril? How indeed. In "The Rules of Summer" two brothers live by a list of learned life experiences which are tinged with a surreal note of darkness. I always expect to love Shaun Tan's books instantly, but always wonder what Charlotte will actually think of them. Should children really be encouraged to embrace such dark works when really we'd love them to be happy sun-kissed little campers?

She's shown me time and time again though that her taste for the surreal is as keen as mine. We've looked at my huge collection of Taschen books, at artists like Magritte, Ernst and Dali (with the odd parental filtering of some of the racier content), so she appreciates the work of Tan - who firmly establishes his own style as an incredible artist who just happens to produce children's picture books (are they really for children though? Certainly I could fully appreciate that not everyone's kids would find any worth in them but I'm so utterly glad mine does).

As we journey through "The Rules of Summer", and discover the brothers doing what boys seem to do best (teetering along a knife-edge between good and bad behaviour, salvation and danger), the book's undercurrent seizes us and pulls us under the waves to speak in hushed tones of sibling love and rivalry. In any family where an older and younger child play together, you can imagine the conversations, the subtle power struggles, the fights, the making-up and above all the companionship the two children will experience until they're old enough to crack a wry smile and remember childhood.

In essence, Shaun Tan has captured that - fused it with his expert eye into something that acutely describes where we stand in our own personal landscapes, and what we experience through them.

Looking through the eyes of a child beyond what adults see as mundane or ordinary is a very neat conjuring trick, one that Shaun Tan seems to be able to perform at the drop of a battered old bowler hat.

A truly beautiful eye-opening book in so many ways, and a thoroughly well deserved book of the week for both of us.

Charlotte's best bit: "Never leave a red sock on the washing line"

Daddy's Favourite bit: "Never eat the last olive at a party"

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)

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