The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook

Shaun Tan, Author
Shaun Tan. Scholastic/Levine, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-545-46513-7
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“Why isn’t the finished work as good as the sketch?” Tan (The Arrival) asks in the introduction to this collection of loose illustrations and rough ideas, wondering why drawings lose their spontaneity as they undergo revision. These sketches took little time to make, he says, and some “barely escaped the paper-recycling bin.” Fascinated with hybrids, Tan draws cyclopean monsters with claws and tentacles, light bulbs with tails, cars with antennae, and a flower whose bloom is a single human eye. A section of full-color paintings and drawings offers rich and complex layers of pigment, lush shadows, and startling highlights of scarlet and magenta. In one, an Asian man wearing glasses holds the hand of a small boy on a sidewalk; “Dad + me,” reads the legend. A careful set of sketches records pre-Columbian artifacts; another, just as earnest, invents a character alphabet for an undersea civilization; a cover sketch for Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels also appears. The sharing of unfinished work is a generous gesture, and the collection is a treasure trove for any young artist who wants to know more about how ideas are captured on paper. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
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