Lost & Found by Shaun Tan is a beautiful collection of three picture books originally published in Australia, and now available in the U.S. for the first time.
The Red Tree
The first story, The Red Tree, is about a girl who wakes up feeling blue. Things seem to go from bad to worse, no one understands her, and she feels lost and alone. Yet hope has been there all along, following the girl throughout the day. The pictures are both haunting and beautiful, conveying all the emotions that the few sparse words imply.
The Lost Thing
The second story is The Lost Thing which has been turned into an Oscar winning animated short. A boy, while searching for bottle caps, runs into a lost thing at the beach—a creature that looks as though it lives in a gigantic kettle-come-teapot, and who has the personality of a lost puppy. The boy tries to find where the lost thing belongs, only to encounter indifference and bureaucratic coldness. Fortunately, there is a place for the lost things of his world, and he helps the lost thing find it.
In addition to the evocative paintings, Tan borders every pages with collages made mostly from yellowed engineering and math textbooks. The diagrams, number tables, text, and occasional Chinese characters provide a sense of industry, business and over-organization in a world taken over by buildings and machines. Surprisingly, it also adds warmth to the tale, mellowing what might be a forbidding place in which to live.
The collage disappears in one spread alone—when the lost thing finds its true home, and we see the place through the black frame of a doorway. And although nature is not visible here either, there is a feeling of openness and a lighter touch from industry—although it’s not absent entirely. It’s a place where you can breathe and be different—no longer needing the warm frame to be welcoming.
The third story, The Rabbits, is the most didactic of the three. Written by John Marsden, it was chosen Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council and won numerous awards in Australia. Unlike the first two tales, this one has no one main character—it’s an allegory. It tells the story of invaders—rabbits—taking over a peaceable continent. Although the first encounters were friendly, the rabbits go on to steal, plunder and destroy. The ending is bleak for the native species. The artwork, though, is extraordinary, conveying in its breadth and detail the destruction wrought.
Lost & Found is a gorgeous book that rewards you with each new viewing. It’s one I shall thumb though, over and over again.