16 October 2015 | Children's Fiction

Shaun Tan – The singing bones


Shaun Tan – we are such fans of his work at our place! Miss 9, Mr 6 and I went to see the exhibition of his sculptures from The singing bones at No Vacancy last weekend. Shaun used air-drying clay, paper mache and sand to create his sculptures based on seventy-five fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm collections.

I love art that shows the hand of the artist – you can see cracks and thumbprints and brushstrokes in Shaun’s work. The kids had the opportunity to make their own figures out of playdough and add it to a growing collection on the children’s table.

Some of the sculptures are ugly and groteseque. Don’t imagine delicate princesses and whimsical fairies – Cinderella is merely a gold face in an oven or fireplace, Rapunzel is part of her tower with long gold hair flowing down on either side of the tower. Rumplestiltskin is an angry, red man and there are hanging bodies on the gallows and frightening monsters.

The book is a series of double page spreads, with a brief paragraph from the fairy tale and a photograph of a sculpture. There is also information about the Brothers Grimm, a brief summary of each of the seventy-five fairy tales and an afterword from Shaun.

In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Shaun said that fairy tales are “whatever you want them to be.” So princesses can be delicate or strong and Rumplestiltskin can be a small, humorous creature or an angry, red man.

The sculptures look simple, yet the amount of understanding and fairy tale knowledge behind each lump of clay is astounding. That’s what I love about fairy tales – the depth and possibilities for interpretation behind seemingly simple stories.

As Albert Einstein said, “if you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The exhibition closes after this weekend.


Author interview – Victoria Carless


Terri Dixon

Were your children OK with the sculptures? The cover looks scary!


October 16, 2015 at 9:29 am

Karen Comer

More curious than scared. The sculptures are the size of an orange. I think I would be scared of a six-foot skull!

October 16, 2015 at 10:15 am

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