On the surface, Shaun Tan’s award-winning picture book Rules Of Summer is simply a list of rules. Below I take a look at how Rules Of Summer is in fact a complete narrative.
There is also a message here. Readers are asked to wonder: What are the real rules of summer? Play together. Use your imaginations. Work out your differences.
STORY STRUCTURE OF RULES OF SUMMER
Does this picture book — more like a coffee table book of art in some ways — follow the universal seven steps of narrative, as outlined by John Truby? Yes, it does, though it requires the reader to provide some of that story. Shaun Tan doesn’t hand it to us on a plate.
Sure enough, Rules Of Summer is a complete narrative, and this is what makes the book resonant.
Two brothers are faced with a long summer and they must learn to entertain themselves and how to get along.
They want to have fun
They turn everyday situations into imaginary scenarios to fight the boredom of long, never-ending days of summer holidays.
Notice the pictures get darker. Especially the skies.
They have a fist-fight. The older brother wins. The younger brother feels isolated as he waits for an apology.
If he waits long enough, the older brother will eventually come back to him. This emotional state is depicted as a snowy, cold landscape, juxtaposing against the summery backdrop of an Australian summer. (And summers here in Australia are pretty much the opposite of snowy and cold.)
The Symbolism of Seasons is important in Rules of Summer.
The boys sit together on the couch looking at the TV.
What does it mean when characters in books watch TV, or perhaps their computers? It almost always means they have stopped noticing things going on around them, preferring to slip into the world of other people’s fantasy. In Shaun Tan’s “The Lost Thing”, the parents watch TV while failing to see the amazing things all around them.
What about these boys? Why have they decided to watch TV? Perhaps it is safer, because the fantasy world on the other side of the screen feels less real than the imaginary (or real-to-them) local environs — TV as safe escape.
But have they learned to get along?
Have they learned to entertain themselves?