November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Shaun Tan’s ‘Rules of Summer’ | Touch and Go

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rules of summerScholastic, the publisher of The Arrival, The Bird King, and other titles by Shaun Tan, released his Rules of Summer late last month. The app, developed by We Are Wheelbarrow, offers 11 language options: English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese.  Paula Willey reviews the app below.

Atmospheric, textured, surreal—the work of Shaun Tan is easily described as “cinematic.” His tableaux appear to be stills from a larger story, his settings hint at a larger world, fully imagined far beyond the frame. Music and other sounds are implied by objects and actions in the picture. And in fact, Tan is an animator as well as an illustrator, receiving an Academy Award in 2011 for Best Short Film (Animated) for his adaptation of his book The Lost Thing.

Screen 1:"Never step on a snail."  (We are Wheelbarrow) Tan

Screen 1: “Never step on a snail.” (We are Wheelbarrow) Tan

So it seems quite natural—as natural as anything associated with the eerie, offbeat imagination of Tan could be—for him to create an app version (We Are Wheelbarrow, $4.99; Gr 3 Up) of his new book Rules of Summer. The title itself implies sunlit, child-governed anarchy, exploration, arbitrary tests of fearlessness—a world in the process of being interpreted anew through a child’s eyes. And in this app, what they see is mind-blowing.

The user is invited in with the words, “This is what I learned last summer.” Each page features a single line (“Never leave one red sock on the clothesline.” “Never step on a snail.” etc. ) and a hand-drawn icon. Tapping the icon pulls viewers into a painting, landing on a very small detail of the big picture. Subsequent pictures tell a story of two boys, perhaps brothers, adventuring with various robotic and/or monstrous friends through odd landscapes.

Screen 2:"Never step on a snail." (We Are Wheelbarrow) Tan

Screen 2: “Never step on a snail.” (We Are Wheelbarrow) Tan

The print version of Rules of Summer (Scholastic, 2014) is easier to decipher, narrative-wise. But the oblique presentation of Tan’s paintings in the app, together with the muted clanks, birdsong, hums and tinkles of the sound track leaves more room for speculation. It’s a beautiful app that rewards repeat visits.—Paula Willey, Pink Me

Eds. note: To learn more about Rules of Summer and Shaun Tan, view this ABC RN video interview with the author.  

Visit the Touch and Go webpage for additional app reviews.

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  1. I bet anything Shaun Tan would make a great app! I’ll have to check this out.