The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

I’m not quite sure how to review The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and I’m not sure I know how to review visual art in the first place. But I can certainly recommend it.

This unique book contains photographs of small sculptures by Tan, each illustrating one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Each sculpture encapsulates its respective tale in one haunting image, often enhanced by the lighting and arrangement of the photo, and accompanied by a short passage from the tale.


“Mother Trudy”

You will be familiar with some of the tales. Others, you might not be. Tan includes a short summary of each tale in the back of the book, but you may also feel inspired to go back to the Grimms and read the full story — happily, the brothers’ work is easily available.

The Singing Bones is introduced by a foreword from Neil Gaiman and a short history of the Grimms by Jack Zipes, both of which are well worth reading too.

How to describe the sculptures? Gaiman calls them “oneiric,” and I have to agree. They feel like something you dreamed, or maybe something you saw when you were a little kid and you were never sure if you dreamed it or not, and you’d forgotten all about it until you opened the book. They’re sometimes sad, sometimes unsettling, sometimes exuberant. The cover image is representative.

If you’re a fairy-tale nerd, you definitely need The Singing Bones on your shelf or coffee table.

Published on October 11, 2016. Wicked stepmothers, traitorous brothers, cunning foxes, lonely princesses: There is no mistaking the world of the Brothers Grimm and the beloved fairy tales that have captured generations of readers. Now internationally acclaimed artist Shaun Tan shows us the beautiful, terrifying, amusing, and downright peculiar heart of these tales as never before seen. With a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an introduction by renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes, this stunning gallery of sculptural works will thrill and delight art lovers and fairy-tale aficionados alike.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.