A clever pictorial extravaganza about summer holidays for all ages
“Never break the rules. Especially if you don’t understand them.” Strange and mysterious things can happen, as discovered by a young boy and his brother one summer! This is the lesson we learn from Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Sandra Greenwell, Head of Libraries at Dulwich College Beijing (DCB) has chosen a story about a young boy and his brother who recount their previous summer through the rules they invented. These are not just any rules, Greenwell tells us; they are filled with mystery, wonder, humor, and magic.
“As a young child summer was always associated with holidays, family, friends, the beach, BBQs and so on. It was a time when my friends and I would invent new adventures and games and, like the two children in the story, have our own rules for play. But unlike in the story, our rules were mundane – we never had rules that threatened punishment by mean, oversized, hooked beaked creatures if we ate ‘the last olive’ or invited a nasty tornado for stepping on a snail! Throughout the book, the little brother follows his older sibling, trying his best to keep up and understand the rules that he makes up.
“The opening line of the story, ‘This is what I learnt last summer,’ unlocks the rules. It is obvious that the older boy is there to protect his younger brother from the imagined danger associated with breaking the rules. Like being stalked by giant scary red rabbits and alien monsters. The rules are just one liners, mostly starting with ‘Never’ and a few with ‘Always’ ̵ the consequences are shown in Tan’s amazing paintings, which reflect the imagination of the young boy as he tries to understand them. It is this combination that makes this book a winner and allows all ages to make the connections and interpretations.
“Tan’s richly coloured and highly textured paintings aptly capture the setting and fun and fear shared by the brothers. There is so much detail to be found in them and they allow the reader plenty of room to reflect and come to their own conclusions.”
A source of inspiration on the merits of imagination, creativity and individuality
A few years ago, James Honey, Primary Year 4 teacher at YCIS, stumbled across a fantastic book that reminded him of a time when every day was spent in search of adventure and excitement. The book, titled Weslandia and authored by Paul Fleischman, tells the story of Wesley, a boy who is far from popular at school and spends most of his time being bullied for being different to the other children. Instead of eating junk food, playing football, and having the trendiest haircut, Wesley prefers to follow his own path and generally spends most of his time in the library, reading up on many different subjects, until one day he has an amazing idea.
“His summer project will be to start his own civilization,” Honey says. “ Now, of course, Wesley hasn’t taken this lightly, and through his reading he knows that every great civilization in history had its own staple food crop. So this is where he begins, turning over a plot of land in his garden until one night the wind blows in a collection of seeds that will become the basis of Wesley’s civilization.
“Over time Wesley finds that these plants, which he can’t find in any book, provide him with everything he needs to live a happy life. Soon, Wesley finds that his civilization quickly thrives in the summer sunshine and before long other people start to take notice.
“I absolutely loved this book, and my class enjoyed it too. In a world where children seem to spend the majority of their time glued to one screen or another, it shows us that adventure and possibility are everywhere in the world, even if we only venture as far as our own gardens.”
This article originally appeared on page 38 of the 2016 June-July Issue of beijingkids magazine. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com.