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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rules of Summer, written and illustrated by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. 2014. $19.99 all ages

"This is what I learned
last summer:

Never leave a red sock
on the clothesline.

Never eat the last olive
at a party."

If you know Shaun Tan's work, you will not be surprised to find yourself in the surreal world of two brothers thinking back on their previous summer. It is meant to be an explanation for all that was learned at that time. Yes, the lessons are curious and the illustrations that Shaun Tan has created to accompany them even more so.  This world is definitely odd, and sure to inspire much speculation from those who look at it alone, or together.

Many readers will be delighted with the rules and their counterpart artwork. Others might feel somewhat frightened by them. The boys live in a world of their own making, but that world seems familiar at the same time. In sharing some of Shaun Tan's books, readers either get it, or they don't. The more I look at the images, the more intrigued I am by all that he brings to the picture book world.

Tan's brilliantly colored acrylic and oil artwork evokes an imaginary world where kids can let their imaginations carry them to new experiences. They are puzzling, and offer no easy answers to the questions they might inspire. The rules that an older sibling voices often make no sense to the younger one. But, follow the rules they do; even if it makes them uncomfortable. Watching closely as the two navigate this game set up by the older brother gives readers a true sense of their relationship. Ultimately, the brothers experience the summer together, and with much appreciated success.

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