BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Bird King: an artist’s notebook by Shaun Tan

Bird KingWhenever I open a Shaun Tan book, my face just gets a goofy grin. It’s a Pavlovian reaction, guaranteed.

Although his latest doesn’t come with a straightforward narrative, it does manage to cleverly include tidbits and reminiscences from his entire oeuvre to create a whimsical portrait of an artist as a young man. From “inspiration,” to “artist’s block” to Paul Klee, Tan explains how even though most of his work “involves exhibited projects like books, films, and finished paintings, the primary material of all these … remains largely unseen, tucked away in folios.” Culled from those “folios, boxes, and sketchbooks,” this latest title “present[s] a cross-section of such material from the past twelve years, ranging from fairly precise drawings to scruffy scribbles.” All the drawings, by the way, were “generally completed in a single sitting of less than two hours.” Tan’s genius moves quickly, that’s for sure!

The book does, of course, have a method to its creative madness, neatly presented in four sections. Every picture in “untold stories” – “[m]y stories generally begin with images rather than words” – is a tale waiting to be discovered, or even made up, by the beholder. In “book, theater, and film,” Tan offers examples of “source energy … a wonderful, embryonic vagueness” that fuels Tan’s various projects across media. In “drawings from life,” Tan presents “a careful study of the real world” – including a most adorable rendition of bespectacled “Dad” and chubby toddler “me.”  The final section, “notebooks,” is an on-the-road free-for-fall, with sketches both “observational” and “equivalent to daydreaming.” As an added bonus, brief descriptions are offered in a “list of works” in the book’s final pages.

Conveniently compact, colorfully intriguing, and invitingly ingenious, this delightful notebook is all about potential. For Tan, the contents here produced multiple bestselling books, an Oscar-winning film, and countless awards and honors (including the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the coveted prize known as “The World’s Largest Children’s Literature Award” for the five million Swedish krona, or $800K+, that comes attached with it!). For his lucky audience willing to invest just a bit of imagination – regardless of age! – Tan’s notebook can take you from simple entertainment to whole new worlds. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?!

Readers: All

Published: 2013


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