It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our reviews last week.
Several weeks back, we have done a feature of Shaun Tan’s books The Lost Thing and The Red Tree. This week, we will be sharing his collaboration with Gary Crew in these two powerful and riveting picture books, Memorial and The Viewer.
Story By: Gary Crew
Illustrations by: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Lothian Books, 1999. Book borrowed from the NIE library. Book photos taken by me.
My great-grandpa says they planted the tree on the day he came home from the war.
And so the story begins. The huge tree in this story is a living testament to the ceremonial planting of living breathing leaves, perhaps to assuage the loss of life and limb at this time in history when young boys are sent to fight the older boys’ war in Pyrrhic attempts to prove who is the fiercest conqueror of all, vanquishing territories and young lives in its wake.
This picture book, while predominantly the story of great-grandpa is seen from the eyes of a young boy starry-eyed with ideals, aghast at the thought that the local council is thinking of cutting this living ‘memorial’ down. The tree is now perceived to be hugely-unwieldy, blocking the statue beside it, obscuring the traffic lights – horribly out of place in the bustling modern city with frenzied office-going individuals who could not be bothered.
It becomes clear, though, as the story progresses that it goes beyond great-grandpa’s story as even the child’s parents have memories of this tree.
‘You know your mother and I had a tree house up there?’ Dad says right out of the blue. ‘We used to play doctors and nurses. And mothers and fathers, didn’t we…?’
Mum looks a bit worried. Dad can come out with anything sometimes.’You and your mothers and fathers,’ she says, biffing him. ‘And you were always trying to get me up there to look at the stars – or so you said…’
The tree has withstood several wars, witnessed the evolution of entire families, watched the entire city grow from its vantage point. It is also home to entire animal families who find its branches sturdy and its leaves a sanctuary from the elements. While initially the picture book started out to be a story of a soldier coming home from the war, the narrative unfurled into something else altogether – the fragmented quality of memory and the collected bits and pieces that make up one’s life – which is likewise evident in Shaun Tan’s amazing collage artwork. According to Shaun Tan as could be seen from his website:
What made the subject of the book engaging for both of us was that it ended up being not about war, memorials or remembrance as ‘grand’ subjects, but about the small, quiet memories that make up ordinary day-to-day lives – really about the nature of memory itself. I tried to capture this in illustrations which were fragmented, sometimes worn and faded. I incorporated collage into paintings and drawings to this effect, using fabric, leaves, wood, rusted metal, photographs, newspaper and dead bugs. Because of this assemblage, many of the images were not flat or could be scanned in the normal way, and had to be photographed first.
When the young boy claimed with the arrogance and certainty of youth that he would ‘fight city hall’ to preserve the tree, his great grandfather laughed and stated with equal candor yellowed with wisdom and pain that ‘the big boys will beat you every time. They’ll chop you to bits.’ However, he did say:
‘Still, that don’t mean they’ll forget you. It’s the fight in you they’ll remember. That memory won’t die – not like my old bones. Even concrete and rock won’t last forever. But memories, now they’re different. Memories, they’re ever livin’ things….’
There are indeed memories packed within memories – regardless of its truths. Sometimes it is one’s recollection of events and the feelings that they evoke which hold greater meaning. For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is a free downloadable document file created by Leonie King from Holy Spirit College that details “a values based approach” to reading Memorial. This is another downloadable pdf Newsletter of the Australian Literacy Educators Association written by Jenni Connor that details possible curriculum connections of Memorial as well as notes and reflections on quality integrated learning.
Story by: Gary Crew
Illustrations: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books, first published 1997. Paperback edition published, 2003. Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos were taken by me.
I bought this picture book from Kinokuniya as it is neither found in our public libraries nor in my institution’s library (which is quite rare). I am not sure if there are only limited publications of this book, but it’s definitely something that every library should own and every avid bibliophile must have in their own bookshelves.
This is the story of a young boy named Tristan, a daydreamer who has a wanderer’s heart and curious eyes able to find treasures in the mundane:
One place attracted Tristan more than any other. The city dump stretched over acres of drifting sand, a vast crescent littered with the detritus of a careless people. But to Tristan, the dump was nothing short of a museum.
Every afternoon he searched for interesting objects to take back to his room until curiosity led him to examine them again, as if they might reveal another world.
One day he found this box filled with engravings and made of dark wood and burnished metal. Within the locked lid is found a viewfinder as could be seen in the image above. I am familiar with such a viewfinder as I used to own one of these as a child. However, the images found in my own viewfinder were your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, feel-good children’s illustrations. The ones found in Gary Crew and Shaun Tan’s minds however are far from that. Shaun noted in his website that he and Gary Crew share pretty much the same dark and peculiar interests:
The Viewer was the first picture book I worked on, and developed from my intial meeting with Gary Crew, a well-known Queensland writer who was visiting Perth in 1995. We realised quite quickly that we shared very similar interests in science fiction, horror and illustrated fiction. We are also both artists and authors in different proportions; Gary originally wanted to be an artist, and I originally wanted to be a writer! We also have a shared sense of humour, and an attraction to dark and disturbing themes, as evidenced by The Viewer, which was published a couple of years later.
Needless to say, the images that Tristan found as the “delicate machinery clattered and chimed” were disturbing and grotesque as they depicted the most sordid and haunting aspects of humanity:
There are multiple layers to the book as the reader becomes a voyeur seeing through Tristan’s eyes as he is drawn despite himself to look and stare at the viewfinder and the horrors found within. Shaun Tan explains in his website how he perceives the viewer:
So what actually is ‘the viewer’? My key contribution at the conceptual level was probably the suggestion that this dangerous device was not from outer space, but ‘home-grown’ terrestrial spookiness. It was some kind of time capsule that may have existed since the dawn of creation, in a box with many other artefacts that would be recognisable to people of different ages and periods – hence the fact that the viewer would emulate a children’s toy, and be picked up by a twentieth century suburban kid. The purpose of all these devices is essentially unknown – part of the attractive mystery of the story – but there are suggestions in the illustrations, full as they are of inscriptions, that the box containing them has passed through the hands of many different histories and cultures.
While the images left Tristan horribly scared, he was also fascinated by it, especially at the fact that the images continually change – whirring constantly as if they have a life of their own, evolving in a continuous spiral depicting the darkest and deepest secrets found below the threshold of man’s consciousness.
The ending of the book is equally brilliant – and harrowing in its incompleteness. Exactly what happened to Tristan, I shall leave for you to discover and find out. For teachers who may wish to use this book, here is a downloadable pdf link created collaboratively by Kidsafe Western Australia, Safety Rules Ok!, Healthway & Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre’s Upper Primary Residencies which includes an extensive teacher resource detailing curriculum framework links, possible activities that can be done inside the classroom including a diorama and printable rubrics for students’ and teachers’ use.
Friends who regularly visit our blog would know that I have a Bradbury-Moers fascination. I can not go long reading one without the other. I am just so fortunate that finally we have The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books in our libraries, a fantastical reprieve from Bradbury’s touch of darknesses and peculiarities in his collection of short stories. Moers’ Labyrinth is the sequel to The City of Dreaming Books which I also reviewed for our Books about Books bimonthly theme.
How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?
Memorial won an Honour Book award in the 2000 CBCA awards, won an APA Design Award for best designed children’s book and was short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Book Awards.
Crichton Award and Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year, Notable Book for The Viewer
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 25, 26 of 35
82, 83 of 150