BookPage Children's Top Pick, May 2014

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Shaun Tan’s books are breathtaking—just consider his wordless graphic novel, The Arrival. But the effect is even more astounding when he puts words and images together, as he’s done in Rules of Summer. There is an underlying beauty to his work that transcends our everyday lives. His design sense is striking, and he pushes the boundaries of picture books in delightful ways.

Rules of Summer 1

As the title of his latest offering indicates, readers are given a series of rules, as a young boy looks back on the previous summer to share what he’s learned. But don’t expect rules that in any way embrace mundane realism. Tan always takes us on fantastical journeys, and this one is filled with mystery, fear, wonder and magic—all with the boy’s older brother by his side. “Never eat the last olive at a party,” we read with an illustration showing oversize, sharp-beaked creatures in suits, glaring at the boy who is reaching for the last olive on a dinner party plate. Stepping on a snail could immediately call forth a vicious tornado, and leaving the back door open can invite sea-like alien creatures that might overtake your den.

Rules of Summer 2

But it’s not all menace. There are parades with wildly imaginative creatures; a baseball-esque game with robots (just don’t argue with the umpire); and a luminous world towering over short concrete walls attempting to contain it (don’t forget the password, since big brother will ask for it). And Tan wraps it all up with a series of spreads connected by an emotionally poignant thread about brotherhood.

The rich, lush paintings are for poring over, as there is much to be found in Tan’s details. They tell cryptic tales that leave ample room for the child reader to wonder and reflect. The very title is deliciously fun, given that Tan is always up for subverting the standard storytelling rules of picture books.

Compelling and evocative, Rules of Summer is a great choice for both diehard Tan fans and those coming to his inventive books for the first time.


Illustration © 2014 by Shaun Tan. Reprinted by permission of Scholastic.

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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