Brain Pickings

The Lost Thing: A Whimsical Story about Belonging by Shaun Tan

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What a bizarre, fantastical creature can teach us about human nature and social concerns.

Last year, I raved about The Lost Thing, a lovely cross-platform gem by acclaimed Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan. (Who recently gave an interview only in drawings.) The film incarnation of the project won the 2011 Academy Award for best animated short film and the book, though classified as children’s literature, is an ageless treat of whimsy and quirk, telling the humorous story of boy who finds a bizarre creature at the beach and sets out to discover where it came from and who owns it, but is met with indifference by everyone he encounters. Magnificently illustrated and vibrantly poetic, the story is really about the search for belonging, a fine addition to these must-read children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups.

What started out as an amusing nonsensical story soon developed into a fable about all sorts of social concerns, with a rather ambiguous ending. I became quite interested in the idea of a creature or person who really did not come from anywhere, or have an existing relationship to anything, and was ‘just plain lost’. I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a character that would represent how I might personally respond to this, so the unnamed narrator is essentially me.” ~ Shaun Tan

The film itself is an absolute treat, its sound effects alone a work of art:

In addition to the book, The Lost Thing is available on DVD and iTunes, narrated by none other than the brilliant Tim Minchin.

For a megadose of Tan’s genius, it doesn’t get better than Lost and Found — an anthology of three of his most beloved children’s stories: The Red Tree, The Lost Thing and The Rabbits.

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