Reading children’s books these days often engenders in me a niggling element of professional jealousy. If only I’d had that idea … if only I’d constructed that sentence … if only I’d got even close to that level of brilliance. But there are some books where that dissolves, where you feel lucky that you didn’t write it because that would mean you wouldn’t have been able to read it in the first place.
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan is a world in a book – as transporting on the tenth read as the first. Of course, it looks beautiful – every inch of every page is illustrated, evoking a sort of accidental dystopia that’s both inviting and sad – but it’s the text that makes the story feel so effortless. It has one of the lightest touches of any book I’ve read. A boy finds a benign, living ‘thing’ (what looks like a giant alien robot washer-dryer) on a beach, decides that it must be lost and tries to help. It’s a big, strange idea but plays out like a casual anecdote, never attempting to be anything other than everyday in tone. At the same time, the book muses rather than moralizes on our need to categorize, compartmentalize and ghettoize, and on our tendency to see difference as inconvenience. And somehow there’s not a hint of heavy-handedness or judgment anywhere. It’s an absolute cracker.
In fact it’s so good that I’m glad I didn’t write it. But I really wish I had.
The Lost Thing (978-0734411389) by Shaun Tan is published by Hodder Children’s Books at £9.99 pbk.
Guy Bass’ new book, The Ghosts of Grubbers Nubbin (978-1847156099), is published by Stripes Publishing, £5.99 pbk