Subscribe to The Horn Book

An artist’s notebook

The Bird KingSeeing artists’ sketchbooks is like sneaking into their diaries. Sketchbooks give a fascinating look into secret artistic processes and reveal hidden gems that never before made it to publication. Shaun Tan’s The Bird King: an artist’s notebook (Scholastic/Levine, coming February 2013) is a treasure trove of ideas and humor, filled with fantastic, slightly creepy creatures you somehow can’t help but want to cuddle.

Tan’s introduction precedes the sketches, paintings, and dummy pages, which are organized into four sections: “untold stories,” “book, theater, and film,” “drawings from life,” and “notebooks.” A list of works included gives further information on each piece.

A few pages I especially liked:

A menacing bird in formal attire holds a glass of very blood-like wine. Caption: “never lost a case.”

language of the sea” is a spread of marine creature–inspired symbols that read like hieroglyphics.

the water buffalo” features a massive and incredibly grumpy-looking water buffalo, sitting in a grassy vacant lot and pointing up the street for a little girl asking for directions.

On the spread “sketches from the Met,” Tan draws from truly bizarre artifacts and small statues of strange invented creatures.

Finally, there is a sweet pencil drawing of a giant bear and a woman hugging each other. It’s precious and heartwarming— until you read the caption “tender morsels.”


About Devon Johnson

Devon Johnson is a design intern at The Horn Book, Inc.



  1. Thank you for telling about this upcoming book. It looks so special.

  2. Bibliophile just got me an ARC of this book and I can’t wait to sit down and savor it! I LOVE Shaun Tan.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.


  1. […] have given us tantalizing glimpses behind the scenes with Rebecca Stead, Lee Kingman Natti, and Shaun Tan. Read more about the lives of artists you admire — including cartoonists, dancers, writers, […]

Speak Your Mind