By way of an entry in Gaal's LJ, I was led to
Eric, a story by Shaun Tan, as reproduced by the Guardian. On the strength of the story and of what I read in reviews, I ordered three of Tan's books:
- The Haunted Playground
- The Lost Thing
The Red Tree (2001) doesn't tell a story. It is a sequence of metaphors for depression, concluding with the expression of a principle of hope. The focal character is a little red-headed girl, and the metaphors are written at a level that a depressive child should be able to understand. I don't believe the particular message of hope, and so I very much doubt that I would offer this book to a depressed child. But if one wants to offer the message that things will surely get better to a despondent child, then this book might be an appropriate device. Otherwise, adults can appreciate the quality of the pictures.
The Arrival (2006) is the most impressive of these five books, and one that I very strongly recommend for adults. It is the tale of a stranger come to a strange land — so strange to him that he cannot read the local script. To communicate that loss of communication, the story is told without words for the reader either; once past the title page, there are no words beyond the Roman numbering of chapters and whatever is said in that mysterious script. I'd far rather that you experienced the story as it was designed, so I will resist the temptation to reveal more to you. I will tell you that not only should this not be simply classified as a children's book, but that I think that a younger child should not go through this book for the first time without an adult beside him or her.
BTW, you can get this virtually wordless book as translated into Spanish if you wish. (And, apparently, there was some concern that
El Llegado or somesuch would be too subtle a title.)
Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008) is a heavily illustrated anthology of short fiction —
Eric is taken from it — such that the styles of the illustrations vary with the stories. The stories are not uniformly as marvelous as is The Arrival, but Outer Suburbia is still an outstanding book, which I again recommend. In my opinion, the best of the stories is the very last,
night of the turtle rescue; it is very short but very powerful. Most of the stories are suitable for younger children, but it would concern me to have a younger child reading
stick figures or
wake on his or her own.
The Haunted Playground (1998) is essentially a ghost story for children reading at about third-grade level. I’d guess that it’s about 11000 words, with about ten pen-and-ink interior illustrations by Tan. (The cover is by David Pulmbo.)
The Lost Thing (2000), which arrived yester-day, seems to have slipped out-of-print since I ordered it. In any case, is about the discovery of an enormous, lost creature by a boy, told from the perspective of that boy. Not only do most people not recognize the creature’s condition of being lost; they don’t even recognize the existence of the creature (in spite of its size) until someone directs their attention to it. When the boy does this with his parents, they can see it only long enough to insist that it be sent away. Although Tan has provided some interpretation of the story at his website, he actively resisted including any with the book itself.
While I cannot as strongly recommend The Lost Thing as I do The Arrival or Tales from Outer Suburbia, it can be appreciated both by adults and by children. And I don’t think that one need be right at the elbow of a younger child when he or she first reads it, as opposed to Arrival and to Outer Suburbia. The Lost Thing, BTW, is being made into a short, animated film.