The Lost Thing

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Lost Thing, Shaun Tan, book reviewA boy is busy working on his bottle-top collection at the beach when he notices the lost thing. Nobody else is taking any notice of it, but the boy feels he can’t ignore it. He plays with it for some time and then tries to find out if anyone knows anything about it. Nobody does, so he takes it to his friend Pete who simply feels that the thing is lost. The boy thinks he must take it home with him. His parents, when they finally notice the thing, tell the boy to take it back as it looks dirty and might be diseased.

The boy hides the lost thing in the shed but knows he can’t keep it forever. He finds an advertisement in the local paper for The Federal Department of Odds and Ends that sounds like the place he should take the lost thing to. On arriving there the next morning, the lost thing seems sad as it’s a gloomy building that smells of disinfectant. The cleaner tells the boy that he shouldn’t leave the lost thing there if he cares about it. He gives him a business card that has a squiggly arrow sign on it. It takes quite a while for the boy to find the place indicated by the business card, but when he does the lost thing seems happy as there are a crowd of other strange things there too. The boy and the lost thing say goodbye to each other.

The boy ends the story by saying that he still thinks about the lost thing occasionally, especially when he sees something that seems sad and out of place. He comments, however, that that doesn’t happen often, and he isn’t sure whether it’s because there aren’t many such things around or whether it’s because he is wrapped up in other things.

In The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan has created an original and highly creative story. The boy says that there is no moral to the story, but some adult readers will be tempted to look for one. Tan uses plenty of wit in his story. Although the lost thing is so much bigger than the boy, his parents are so wrapped up in their conversation that they don’t even notice it at first. As soon as they have told their son to take it away, they go back to their discussion and seem to have forgotten all about it. The boy’s concern for the lost thing contrasts sharply with the attitude of his parents, yet after he says goodbye to it he realises that he himself is so involved in other things that he no longer notices anything sad or unusual around him. Society doesn’t seem to think about or care about the misfits no matter how glaringly obvious their presence may be, and no matter how sad they may look.

The text of The Lost Thing is in a font that resembles handwriting, but it is not cursive so it is very clear. It is always superimposed on a beige-coloured background, which means there is no difficulty in deciphering it. The illustrations take pride of place on almost every page. Sometimes there is a small paragraph of text, sometimes just a line or two here and there. The vocabulary is straightforward on the whole, but with words such as “intrigued,” “especially” and “anonymous” this is not a book for a child who is learning to read by phonics. As it is not a childish story, it is suitable for a confident independent reader.

Shaun Tan has put a huge amount of work into his illustrations for The Lost Thing. The backgrounds are orange and beige throughout the book, and Tan has used diagrams and snippets of text from his father’s old physics and engineering textbooks to create an overall pattern. On top of these backgrounds we see his illustrations, which are mostly in subdued colours. The lost thing itself, however, is a rich, deep red, curvaceous shape with grey feet and easily draws the reader’s attention. There is a double page spread without any text depicting the place where the boy eventually leaves the lost thing. It’s a surrealist fantasy of strange beings: an accordion with its own hands, a humanoid with a clockwork head, and other creatures that resemble animals or perhaps aliens. It’s easy to see why the lost thing would have felt at home there.

Although The Lost Thing is a picture book, it is not one that is aimed at pre-school children. It will probably appeal more to boys than to girls, except for girls who shun ultra-feminine books of course. It is a book for independent readers and is particularly suitable for visually oriented learners who will appreciate having an abundance of illustrations but not a huge amount of text. Many parents will find this book appealing too, especially if they have an interest in science fiction or the surreal. Any family looking for an unusual and fascinating book would be likely to find The Lost Thing a worthwhile read, and one that will appeal to very different age groups.

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Lost Thing, The
by Shaun Tan

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Written by frangliz