These books are labelled as children’s books but, without dissing children, they would be wasted on them. They are both beautiful pieces of art for adults, with lovely messages. The Red Tree is the first of Tan’s books I came across. It’s perfect to give to someone who has been a bit low (OK, even a child). The illustrations describe the days when you wake up and everything is just awful and then it gets worse. Nobody understand, nothing ever happens. You are on the inside looking out at the nice things out there but you know that the mechanical monster is your fate. This goes on all day… but, however awful it gets you do know, don’t you?, that The Red Tree will be there at the end. Aaah.
Even better is Tan’s The Lost Thing, which is a bit steampunk. You know how it is, you are on the beach and there is this lost thing there, which you need to take home. Except what do you do with this thing? It’s too big, your parents (nope – forgot – this is for adults, let’s say partner) don’t really understand and you would be stuck with it, but you are not the right person. You really need to take it to the land of lost things to be among friends. And you do. Because every lost thing has a home somewhere, with friends just as oddly shaped as them.
You are reading this on your computer so make a cup of tea and click to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1YG7ZXfC6g. The Lost Thing lasts about fifteen minutes. Then this, for another five: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrmMFFpKxgw. If you are in the bookshop, The Red Tree lives in self-help and The Lost Thing lives in our little steampunk section.
Neither of these books is new, though Shaun Tan was new to me. His illustrations are simple, but often in tremendous detail. I find myself going back to the videos and the books again and again.