eric by Shaun Tan


If you aren’t familiar with the works of Shaun Tan, then I’m glad you’ve chanced across this post! This Australian illustrator-writer-creator-imaginer has an uncanny knack to take the mundane, flip it around and present it back to the world in the form of breathtaking picture books.

eric is from Tales of Outer Suburbia, an anthology that deals with the concepts of ‘otherness’ and ‘belonging’. The story, whence read without the images, is that of a foreign exchange student with strange mannerisms that are simply chalked down to ‘it must be a cultural thing.’

eric, in form, is a thumb-sized alien-esque creature, lean, dark and absolutely adorable. His travelling bags are made of acorn shells and his prefered bedroom is the kitchen pantry. The eager young narrator seeks to show him the wonders of zirs* home and suburbia, and when there is a lack of understanding and communication, falls back to the comfort of ‘it must be a cultural thing.’

The narrative stays unassuming of eric’s opinion, as often is when faced with an unknown culture. The illustrations, on the other hand, make the reader fall more and more in love with the little curious creature. In unravelling the transparent metaphor, the reader can replace the figure of the shadowy alien, with a human from another culture and re-read this miniature eric-sized book of heartache.

Shaun Tan’s illustrations are intricate and detailed as always. Seemingly everyday objects are imbued with strange meanings and contexts; for example, a simple teacup turns into eric’s bed. An observant reader can spend hours poring over the pages and will always find a new and enthralling detail.


* Gender neutral narrators get their gender neutral pronouns too. Ze= he/she; zirs = hers/his, etc.

Writer at Art1st

PS. A starting point for discussion can be this question: Why is eric written small letters? How does this contribute to the ‘otherness’ of this book?

PPS. While looking through the illustrations, look out for repeated objects and different perspectives of the same thing. What do you learn about eric’s everyday life and his hosts’ world?



Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner

The story begins, as many stories do, in a faraway land with a singular dragon. But this dragon is a lonely one. She’d travelled far and wide but hadn’t found any dragons to make friends with. Instead, Sylvia makes friends with a Bird.

Rayner’s beautifully illustrated story shows that friendship transcends differences, in size, race and social circumstances. In charge of both the words and the pictures, Rayner weaves the story effortlessly through the gorgeous blue-green spreads.

Rayner’s books are primarily about animals, and she spends hours and hours watching them and making pencil sketches. Then, she goes into her colourful studio to create her illustrations. She mainly uses a liquid acrylic ink with a dip pen.

Writer at Art1st

PS: With all the new Art1st in production, we can’t help but admire the little publishing details, like the endearing copyright page design.

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle


Idea Pearle creates magic!

Young Addy has a constant companion, a favourite playmate- the beautiful moon. As her family makes their way home one evening, Addy plays with her lunar friend as it seems to follow them back home.

A brilliant execution of a familiar idea, Pearle’s visual masterpiece uses the correct number of words to tell a simple story from the heart. Young readers are appropriately cued to look ‘up high’ and ‘down low’, as they play a game of celestial peek-a-boo. Older readers are pulled back into a childhood of fantasy, whimsy and effervescence.

The never-ending spreads are vibrant, as the figures seem to leap out and dance, almost like a film. Reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats, Pearle makes use of a paper collage cut out style marrying classically proportioned figures with clean shapes, sweeping hues and hypnotic patterns.

Writer at Art1st

PS. On the subject of the moon, did you manage to get a glimpse of the eclipse last night?

I’m Bored by Black and Ohi


I’m bored!
I’m sooooooo bored!

Well, isn’t this a familiar situation? Our young protagonist says she’s bored, like many others her age. But what happens when boredom is confronted with… a talking potato?

Michael Ian Black picks up on the adorably annoying nuances of a bored child. They seek to understand what lies behind the ‘bored’ and confront it with the unexpected potato. With roles-reversed, the bored whippersnapper suddenly has something to prove.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s wonderful digital illustrations bring to life the expressive face of the young girl, as she journeys from boredom into adventure. The pictures and words are well-choreographed, making ‘I’m Bored’ a visual comedy for all ages.

The series continues as Black and Ohi tackle similarly recurrent themes in ‘I’m Sad’, featuring the flamingo from its cameo in ‘I’m Bored’, and ‘Naked!’.

Writer at Art1st

The Day I Became A Bird by Ingrid Chabbert, Guridi


Ahh! First love.

Ingrid Chabbert tells a sweet story of a boy who falls in love with a girl called Sylvia, a girl who loves birds. ‘The Day I Became A Bird’ captures the simple purity of unabashed puppy love. The story is so charming and innocent, that it is almost uncomfortable to sully it with an adult’s point of view.

“When I look at her, I forget everything else.” Raúl Nieto Guridi’s minimalist sketches evocatively focus on the two young ‘uns, while the out-lying blankness allows for endless stories and fantasies to be imagined in. The detailed sketches of Sylvia’s birds, as well as the science of building a bird costume add layers to fuel a young reader’s imagination.

The arrangement of the text and the illustrations isn’t parallel. Almost like a film, on a single page, two different segments of the narrative are offered, until the inherent suspense of a love-story is dismantled piece by puzzle piece.

Love, friendship and acceptance is often a difficult prospect in school (okay, okay, and otherwise too). This book considers the hurdles but moves sweetly beyond to the things that are important.


Do you have a fun story of childhood love? Share in the comments below.

Writer at Art1st

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig


Around the end of the first week of every month, a large pile of new books appears in the office, ready for me to catalogue into the library. Today’s pile had a book full of memories; a story half-remembered.

Consider Sylvester, a young donkey, with a penchant for collecting pebbles. One rainy day he finds a pebble as beautiful as the flaming sun, but that’s hardly the most extraordinary thing about it. This pebble grants wishes, much to Sylvester’s joy.
Things take a turn for the worse, when he makes a spur-of-the-moment bad wish, and turns into a rock to escape from a lion.

As Sylvester spends many a solitary month as a donkey-sized rock, the wishing pebble lies nearby, close enough to stare at, but too far for a stone to touch. Steig approaches this lonely passage of time with themes like love and loss, the efficiency of a society during an incident, the transforming beauty of nature through seasons and eventually, gratitude.

William Steig is perhaps best known for a story you might just have heard of- Shrek. A cartoonist for most of his career, his style is evocative and unmistakable. Going back to my childhood memory of this book, the red pebble has unforgettably gleamed through.

What are some of your childhood favourites that you’ve passed along to the next generation? [These questions bear an expectation of answers in the comments section]

Writer at Art1st

PS. Is it odd that I don’t find a family of donkeys wearing clothes at a picnic strange at all? (Thanks a bunch, George Orwell…)

‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’ by Anushka Ravishankar, Christiane Pieper


Sometimes you come across a perfect combination. Sometimes these combinations become metaphors, like fries and ketchup. Tara Books has a winning combination in Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper!

So let’s talk about their book ‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’. Here are some obvious points. It’s a book about Alphabets and Animals, so if you like either, you’ll probably like this book too.

Ravishankar’s witty use of alliteration conjures imaginative scenarios with every Letter. Pieper’s illustrations interpret these quirky lines hilariously and accurately. The pictures match the simplicity of the words in their primary colours against black and white.

‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’ is best read between the lines.
Reading ‘Eight Eels Eight Eleven Eggs’ I can’t help but animate the scenario in my head. As these elegant eels swoosh across the algae-coated water, they find three extra eggs! Do they argue about who gets to eat them or do they sweetly share?

As you get to the end of the question, you’ll be left with a singular question- what’s a Xeme, anyway?

Writer at Art1st

PS. Have you noticed how all books about alphabets mention ‘X-rays’? Maybe we need only 25 alphabets after all…

“This is Not My Hat” by Jon Klassen

My emotional response to this book: Hug the book! Hug the beeg feesh!

Klassen tackles the much-disdained children’s book genre of horror with minimalism, grace and humour. This is a tale of caution that is told in the illustrations rather than the words, when a little fish finds a perfectly-sized blue bowler hat on the head of a big fish, and makes an awkward choice.

As an adult, I definitely enjoy the parallel protagonists, but am curious as to whether children ‘get it’. When it comes to any discussions on morality, there are always counterpoints. Is the book too (invisibly) violent? Do children absorb the skewed message, not of the black-and-white ‘stealing is bad’, but ‘stealing is bad if you can’t get away with it’? But are these just the worried moralistic musings of adult readers that are certain they know EXACTLY what children think when they’re reading.

Moving on to a fast-becoming peeve: why don’t the Children’s Illustrated Books share information about the illustrative style? With so many artist videos floating around, I seem to find the beauty in their process as much as their works. Well, Klassen’s wonderful colours and textures are handmade with water-colours and then digitally combined into the simple, yet dramatic visual narrative. (Thank you, dear Google!)

Have you read the book? How would you deal with the concept of stealing? Start a conversation in the comments section below.

Writer at Art1st

‘Colour Zoo’ by Lois Ehlert

Did you know that all it takes is a circle, a square and a triangle to make a tiger?

Lois Ehlert, is (without surprise) one of our favourite authors, here at Art1st. She has a unique ability to take a simple concept, sprinkle it with creativity and convert it into a magical book. In the ‘Colour Zoo’, Ehlert effortlessly combines three basic shapes together, as page by page the animals transform.

This board book is bright and colourful. Each page has a shape cut out, and as you peer through it, you’ll find an unexpected animal. This is a great book to learn about shapes and what you can do with them. But if you’re an older reader (spoiler alert) you’re going to be pretty impressed by the simplistic ingenuity of each segment.

Entertain this whimsy if you will. The combinations when reduced to mathematical formulas can be quite fun. Tiger – Circle = Mouse or Deer + Oval + Rectangle = Ox. Now try and make up some of your own.

Writer at Art1st

‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson

Okay. We’ll admit it. We love books about crayons.
(mostly because they’re so colourful and fun)

Well, this is a story about a little bundle boy called Harold.
Our hero Harold has a purple crayon. And with that crayon, he draws the world!

This Papa’s palm-sized purple paperback is rich in imagination and its applications. Johnson’s illustrations explore the flexibility of a simple line as Harold makes his purple journey. Purposefully minimal, the pages of Crockett Johnson’s ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ allow the imaginative reader to fill in the colours.

The next time you’re in bed, but can’t quite sleep, grab hold of a purple crayon and see where it will take you.

Writer at Art1st