Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Viewer by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan (Hodder Children's Books)

Back in February last year, we reviewed Anthony Browne's dark and disturbing tale, "The Tunnel" and I thought we'd never see a children's picture book that was darker in content than that.

Of course, since then we've been catching up with the Shaun Tan back catalogue, and this book - "The Viewer" - visits such dark places and such 'grown up' themes that I thought it'd be an instant miss with Charlotte.

I was wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

Though The Viewer uses sparse text and a fairly loose story, describing a boy's obsession with his local junk heap and the discovery of a mysterious object - like a steampunk Viewmaster toy - triggers a journey into the deepest darkest heart of what makes us human.

Disturbing as they are, the images the boy encounters each time he uses the viewer are addictive, compulsive, and soon even when he's not using the viewer itself, he's thinking about it - worrying and stressing over it.

We soon find out why, as the story reaches its dramatic conclusion (which, of course, I'm not going to spoil for you). The depth of the messages here may well sail straight over your youngsters head, but they will undoubtedly be completely and utterly absorbed by this book - and will have a million and one questions triggered by the pictures and themes therein.

By means of a frank admission, I did pick this book up for myself (Shaun Tan books are always hot properties at our local library so it was very rare to find one nestling amongst the happy jolly cuddly books) but was surprised at Charlotte's reaction to it. Talking to her about it, and what the ending meant (and indeed what she thought of the boy's folly as he gets ever more sucked into using the viewer) was a delight. In some ways, the discussions triggered by books like this help you get to know your child better than any other shared experience. Scintillating stuff.

Charlotte's best bit: The first time the boy uses the viewer, and picking out each scene (and what it meant)

Daddy's favourite bit: A very strong and heady cocktail of fantastic visuals and spine-tingling tension. It won't be for every kid, but you may be surprised at how fascinating your child finds this book. Probably better suited to older kids (not because there's anything particularly offensive in it, more because of some of the themes it deals with) but try it on the little ones too and see what happens.