Interview with an Oscar Winning Author
Shaun Tan - Question & Answers
“Shaun Tan (born 1974) is an Australian artist, writer and film maker. He won an Academy Award for The Lost Thing, a 2011 animated film adaptation of a 2000 picture book he wrote and illustrated. For his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" Tan won the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, the biggest prize in children's literature.”
Throughout this academic year, the students in Year 3 at EtonHouse International School Dongguan have been reading, studying and discussing two of author Shaun Tan’s stories to assist them with their first two units of inquiry. ‘Cicada’ & ‘The Arrival’ were the two Shaun Tan books the students focused on.
Taking their learning one step further, students and teachers in Year 3 sought to get in contact with the author himself to ask him some of the questions they had thought about when reading his stories.
Questions & Answers:
-Do you consider yourself to be an artist or an author first and foremost and why? (Question by EHIS Y3 student Zora, age 7)
Good question. I’d have to say a visual artist first, only because I’ve spent far more time studying and practising that, and have been doing it for longer (since before I could read or write). That said, I originally wanted to be a writer as a profession, around the age of 13 or 14, when thinking about a future career. My first submissions to publishers were not illustrations, they were stories. Not very good ones, I might add, but when I started submitting pictures with my stories, editors became interested in getting me to illustrate the (much better) work of others. But I continued to practise writing while working as an illustrator. I got better at both. I enjoy both equally, but for different reasons. Pictures can do things that words can’t, and vice versa. Together they can be very powerful, but it’s a delicate balance.
-Out of all of the stories you have created, which one is your favourite and why? (Question by EHIS Y3, ages 7/8)
Oh, that’s a tough question! They are all favourites for different reasons. But I do have a soft spot for The Lost Thing, because it was the first picture book I wrote and illustrated, and was kind of a breakthrough for me in terms of finding the right storytelling voice. In fact, many of my stories are arguably different versions of that one story, about being lost and trying to find a home with the help of a stranger. Look through my other books, and see if you can notice this too. I’m not sure why I keep coming back to this idea again and again, but it feels like an endless source of inspiration for storytelling (try it yourself if you ever get stuck!).
-Out of all the images you have drawn, which one is your favourite and why? (Question by EHIS Y3, ages 7/8)
Phew, what’s with all the tough questions? No single image springs to mind, maybe because there are just too many. I guess another way of putting it would be, if I could only show one image by way of introduction, what would it be? Maybe a painting at the back of ’Tales from Outer Suburbia’, with a group of weird creatures (and one human) reading books on a hillside. It’s such a happy image to me, but also about how reading makes us tolerant of strangeness, welcoming of difference.
-What inspired you to make the story ‘Cicada’? (Question by EHIS Y3, ages 7/8)
Lots of things, but if I trace it to a single point, it was seeing a red flowering potplant in the window of a huge, bleak office building in a city. It was a tiny speck of bright colour in a monotonous grey landscape. It got me thinking about an insect or caterpillar / butterfly working among humans, which was also a thing of hope. I was also inspired by a nature documentary explaining the 17-year life cycle of cicadas, and also a friend of mine who complained about working in a large corporation. All these things ‘clicked’ together and the story flowed out very easily.
Thanks for your questions!
The answers from Shaun Tan for the students’ question did not disappoint and it was a fantastic opportunity for the students to communicate with such a prestigious author.