Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

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Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: Dark, foreboding and frightening - or heart-warming and humorous? This is book that could match either description. It all depends on your point of view. This is breathtakingly beautiful, and I suspect one that parents will either love or hate, but no one will feel indifference towards.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 48 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0734410670

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Shortlisted for the 2015 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

Rules of Summer is not one of those books that is ever likely to earn the blanket recommendation One for every child's bookshelf. This book is not for every child. For some it could be the stuff of nightmares. But for those children who have grown bored with the pedestrian banality of many of the books on the high street, for children with a vivid imagination who are not too easily frightened, this book can be pure magic. It is a story of friendship, of the relationship between brothers, of anger and rivalry, and also of love and redemption, told with minimal text and the beautiful surreal imagery of Tan's paintings.

The story begins on the inside jacket, with the older brother racing over a golden field with a darkened industrial scene in the back ground, and a younger brother running to catch up. There are no words, but the picture alone conveys an entire story. It speaks of the older child stretching his wings and breaking free, while the youngest fears being left behind. It has all the magic of a sunlit summer day in a wide open space. A couple of pages further on, and still before the story itself begins is another illustration that sets the mood for the whole story. It could be taken as dark and dismal, but for me it brought an immediate wave of nostalgia for the crowded city streets of a place I once called home. It may be grey and dark, but that doesn't mean it is ugly. In the street the older brother whispers secrets - or rules to an attentive younger boy.

The rest of the story consist of rules - some of which make very little sense but seem to carry great weight nonetheless. We are led to believe the consequences for violating these rules may be horrific, but nothing to terrifying actually happens - it is just the fear of what might happen. At one point the siblings end up in a fight, as brothers do, but the story ends on a very positive note with an image of happiness and forgiveness.

My children are ages 5 and 8. Both boys enjoyed this book, but it was the younger who was completely captivated by it. I suppose this book could be taken as a dire warning of danger behind every corner, but my son saw it simply as wonderful fantasies of two brothers enjoying the freedom of summer. The dire warnings became fun stories the older brother told. A warning not to leave the door open overnight was met with wishes that the living room really could end up filled with ammonites and lizards. My sons especially loved a scene with the two boys standing on water towers with butterfly nets catching beautiful glowing lights. This immediately brought back memories for my sons of catching butterflies together over the summer - and that is part of the magic of this book. It takes very common, even mundane childhood experiences and transforms them into a surrealistic fantasy. This has all the joy and innocence of a childhood, as well as some of the nameless fears, but ends with the reassurance that even after a squabble, love is still there and in the end love conquers all.

I do appreciate that some children are apt to find some of the darker imagery frightening. Tan has managed to turn even a rabbit into a creature with some level of menace. This book won't be for everyone, but for those who can appreciate it, it is apt to become a firm favourite. I would be quite happy to give this book ten stars out of five if that were allowed. My immediate reaction to reading to this was to look for more books by the same author, and I have already ordered another. The Rules of Summer is simply unmissable for readers who seek out unique and thought provoking books. This book is clearly intended as a children's book, but it is one many adults will enjoy as well. I know when the children outgrow this, I will be keeping it for myself.

If this book appeals then have a look at:

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean

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Buy Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan at


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