Rules of Summer

Shaun Tan is one of my favourite artists. His picture books such as The Red Tree and The Arrival describe the human experience in spare language and stunning, atmospheric imagery.

Rules of Summer follows two young brothers over the course of a summer, capturing the headiness of long, hot school holidays and the rituals and customs of children’s imaginative play.

imageI recently went back to the book after it was shortlisted for this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. It was every bit as evocative as I remembered.

The unique and detailed illustrations are rendered in a thick acrylic paint that creates an incredible texture. There is a wonderful depth of colour as the story moves from bleached landscapes to dark, surreal moodscapes.

This is a story that lives and breathes, so strongly does it conjure that time in our lives – set loose from school and home – when the only rules that mattered where the ones we made up.

Rules of Summer, by Shaun Tan, published by Hodder Children’s Books, is available now.

Where The Free Things Are


‘Free admission’ is always a welcome phrase, but especially so in cash-strapped January. Well, you have permission to go wild this month with not one, but two fantastic free exhibitions highlighting the best work in children’s book illustration.

The Illustration Cupboard – a magical Aladdin’s cave of a gallery – is hosting it’s annual winter exhibition until the end of January. There is wonderful stuff on view – a silk-screen The Tiger Who Came to Tea caught my eye as well as, of course, original sketches from Where The Wild Things Are. There is also plenty of work on display from modern illustrators such as Shaun Tan. All the work is for sale but I quite happily ignored the price tags on the prints and just let my retinas soak it all in.

Elsewhere, at the British Library, Picture This looks at ten perennial children’s classics which have been re-imagined over the decades by various illustrators. I especially loved Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child’s work for The Secret Garden, perhaps because it summed up the cloistered wonder of this compact but dense selection of work.

The exhibition ends 26th January, so don’t miss your chance to explore the history of these classic stories. And if you like a cheeky photo op, have your picture taken alongside the life-sized Iron Man (made out of card – well, it is free after all).

Illustration Cupboard Winter Exhibition

Picture This, British Library