Aren’t we all, in some way, lost things?

Photomontage of, clockwise from left, the cover of 'Tales From Outer Suburbia', KeithL holding his copy of 'The Lost Thing', and a larger image of the cover of that book.

After we read Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia in class, a copy of another book by the same author seemed like a fitting reward for the student who had kicked the most butt on the comprehension homework. Choosing The Lost Thing, which had been turned into an Oscar-winning short film (in the Best Animated Short Film category) was a no-brainer.

Good work KeithL!

Congratulatory message to KeithL inscribed on the front inside flap of his copy of 'The Lost Thing'.

Like Keith, Shaun Tan has been on quite a roll lately. Soon after receiving his Oscar for the film adaptation of The Lost Thing, Tan was honored with the 2011 ALMA (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award), the international children’s literature award with the largest associated cash prize ($USD 765k).

Shaun Tan’s Wild Imagination, the profile of Shaun Tan that the New York Times Magazine ran last week, is a must-read, especially if your child has expressed an interest in a career in the visual arts. According to that piece, Tan wrote and illustrated The Lost Thing for a heartbreakingly paltry sum — just $600 (Australian dollars, we’re guessing).

The slideshow packaged with the article, The Wonderlands of Shaun Tan, is also worth checking out. It includes the obligatory beautiful images of Tan’s artwork but also some photos of his studio. The last image in the slideshow is a shot of a section of his studio wall that is literally covered with a mixture of Tan’s own output and what appear to be bits of found visual miscellany, some with visibly jagged edges showing that they’ve been torn out of larger source materials. The caption for that image, which doesn’t even begin to do it justice, reads Inspirational photographs and sketches on Tan’s wall.

Imagine someone stalking into Shaun Tan’s studio, tut-tutting about the mess on the wall, and beginning to unpin all of his bits of this and that, confident that what they were doing was necessary and right. Yikes!

How many parents, especially here in chronically crowded and space-deprived Hong Kong, allow their children to collect and display, even in their own bedrooms, scraps of whatever has caught their fancy? How often do we confuse sterility with neatness and how likely are we to want to impose our own conception of neatness and orderliness onto our children’s environments? It’s something to think about.