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Lost & Found
by Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
I first came across Shaun Tan’s bestselling Lost & Found when I was at The Harvard Bookstore in Boston. My co-worker’s good friend is the children’s book buyer for the store, and as we were wandering around the stacks, she playfully demanded, “You need to read this book.”
The front cover piqued my attention, grabbed my curiosity. What is that red, industrial looking machine on the cover? What kind of apocalyptic town is this story taking place? Then I flipped to the back cover. Who’s that girl carrying the metal box? Why is she surrounded in darkness? I had many questions. Luckily, the book provided answers. More than answers, Lost & Found does what great children’s literature should do: it presents challenging material to youth in a way that’s easily digestible. The book provides meditations on huge topics like depression, post colonialism, and apathy. Lost & Found is a collection of three stories: The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, and The Rabbits. The book takes these big topics and makes them easy to swallow with imagery and metaphors. In The Red Tree, dark imagery and a bleak urban landscape speak to a young girl’s depression and isolation. In The Lost Thing, a huge, red machine that’s lost in the city is paired up with a young boy, and we read into themes of displacement and friendship. In The Rabbits, a phalanx of rabbits invade a country and meditations on post colonialism arise.
With the exception of The Rabbits, which was written by John Marsden, all three of the stories within the book are written and illustrated by Tan. And while the book presents three fictional tales, there are lines that undoubtedly ring with a poet’s voice. Here are some of my favorite lines:
From The Red Tree: “The world is a deaf machine.”
From The Lost Thing: “This is a place for forgetting, leaving behind, smoothing over.”
From The Rabbits: “The rabbits came many grandparents ago.”
Not only does Lost & Found win by addressing complex themes and presenting poetic language, but it also charms with its gorgeous art. Tan’s illustrations are like nothing I’ve ever seen in children’s literature. He creates innovative and original collages that almost seem 3-D. In fact, there’s a two page spread lined with bottle caps, which seem to pop-up so much that I rubbed my finger along the paper, just to make sure they weren’t real. On another page, he creates a collage, with cut-outs of text glued above a page of mathematical equations. As I continued to flip through the book, I was continually surprised. Two pages shout with red. Then a page fades to black. Then, out of nowhere, a star-studded sky appears.