Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Comments: Shaun Tan’s work always pushes the boundaries of what is “expected” in children’s literature – which is partly why his books are so widely used in classrooms, studied by academics, and celebrated around the world.
Unlike most of Tan’s award winning books to date, The Singing Bones not a picture book but rather an art book. It is a collection of 75 Grimms’ fairy tale excerpts, and each one is accompanied by one of Tan’s clay figurines. The figurines, which range from dark and disconcerting to quirky and whimsical, are theatrically photographed and generously given a full colour plate each. This quote from fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes’ introduction (p10) sums it up:
By re-creating the figures of the tales, the animals and humans, as solid miniatures in contrasting colours, Tan has generated a rediscovery of the Grimms’ tales and tells them visually anew: the tales found by the Grimms are to be found once again by readers and viewers of Tan’s stunning sculptures.
Retellings of old tales are becoming increasingly popular in children’s literature at the moment. My favourites in this collection include Brier Rose and All Fur, but different stories and sculptures will appeal to different readers. (The annotated index at the end of the book is super helpful if you are unfamiliar with some of the Grimms tales featured.) Retellings are particularly useful in classrooms and address a number of Australian Curriculum: English outcomes in Stage 3 and beyond. The Singing Bones also provides a rich opportunity for interpreting visuals, and discussing the creation of multimodal texts.
Highly recommended for classroom use for Years 5+ (Stage 3) and a must-have for Secondary libraries. Also recommended for coffee tables of Tan fans and other bookish types.
Teacher Tip: Shaun Tan’s well known website always offers useful back stories and information about his texts. His lesser known blog is updated regularly, and includes some posts about the process of making the figurines for The Singing Bones. Students may like to explore Shaun Tan’s blog called The Bird King and perhaps even leave a comment.
*I received a review copy of The Singing Bones courtesy of Allen & Unwin. No payment was received for review and all comments are based on my own professional opinion.