Saturday, 3 May 2014

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

After looking at the Ditmar ballot more carefully, I thought I'd try to get an idea of what Shaun Tan's Rules of Summer is like. Poking around on the book's website, I learnt that it had an app and, seguing my poking to iTunes, I saw that the app was in fact an ebook rendition of the book. Since there's very little chance I'll even get the paper book and since the app was a bargain ($6.49 AUD) for what it was, I grabbed it.
RULES OF SUMMER, is a deceptively simple story about two boys, one older and one younger, and the kind of ‘rules’ that might govern any relationship between close friends or siblings. Rules that are often so strange or arbitrary, they seem impossible to understand from the outside. Yet through each exquisite illustration of this nearly wordless narrative, we can enjoy wandering around an emotional landscape that is oddly familiar to us all.
The "rules" described by the protagonist start of fairly innocuously like "Never eat the last olive at a party" but become darker and more worrying as the story progresses. Although the narrative is told in sparse sentences, a large amount of the story is conveyed in the gorgeous artwork.

The layout of the app is that you turn pages (more or less) to get to each "rule" and then each rule leads you to the corresponding artwork. On the iPad, a single-page image is taller than the screen in landscape mode, but being an iPad, you can easily pan and zoom to see as much or little of the image and detail as you wish. In fact, each image "lands" zoomed in to some pertinent element. The magic of the iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch, but I can't imaging that experience would be as good) is that you can zoom in on details much more easily than would be possible in the printed version. It's like having a built-in magnifying glass for the artwork. There's also a little bit of pulsing colour areas, which obviously wouldn't exist in the printed version. Another non-printable feature was the background mood music that you could turn up while reading. I think the music complemented the work nicely, but in terms of listening with sound on and off, I don't feel that strongly about it.

A few other features are in the app but (I assume) not the printed book. When you've read through it once, it unlocks sketch mode. This allows you to go through the illustrations (and words) again but with preliminary sketches instead of the finished illustrations. Some of these are charcoal (I think? I'm not entirely au fait with art stuff), while some are in colour but on a smaller scale to the finished oil paintings. The most interesting to me, as someone who isn't remotely a painter, was seeing the sketches which were slightly different to the finished works, and thinking about why they evolved that way.

After reading through the book in sketch mode, you unlock a journal with some early concept images, storyboard and so forth. Seeing some of the "rules" which didn't make it into the book was probably my favourite of the bonus content (for lack of a better term). The glimpse into the development of the book was fascinating.

I highly recommend this book and the app in particular to anyone with a passing interest in fantasy art, children, and fans of Shaun Tan's work. To be honest, I'm not actually sure that the app would be the best way to read the book to children, but it would good for a slightly older child to explore by themselves, I think. Assuming the printed book is what I think it is (that is, just the finished artwork), this app would be a great accompaniment for anyone interested in looking further at the developmental process.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Hachette Australia
Series: no
Format read: iPad app
Source: Purchased from the App Store


  1. Looks cool. I'll have to test it out on some small humans.

  2. "Seeing some of the "rules" which didn't make it into the book was probably my favourite of the bonus content"

    I have the book but no way to read the app. Do you have a list of the bonus rules.

    1. It's not so much bonus rules as draft rules.