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Learning about process with Shaun Tan

Students will use Shaun Tan’s original sketchbooks, oil sketches and final artworks for the picture book Dog to develop an understanding of the process of illustrating picture books, before creating their own illustration.

Focus text

Dog by Shaun Tan

Text type

Picture book

Learning intention

Students are learning to:

  • interpret and understand the impact of visual techniques
  • explore the way that visual texts are constructed
  • discuss aspects of texts and their own personal response to these texts
  • plan and create their own visual text.

Success criteria

Students will be successful when they can:

  • identify and analyse the impact of visual texts
  • explain the process of planning and creating picture book illustrations
  • discuss their own personal response to texts
  • plan and create own visual text.

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum English K-10

  • EN4-1A responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure
  • EN4-4B makes effective language choices to creatively shape meaning with accuracy, clarity and coherence
  • EN4-5C thinks imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically about information, ideas and arguments to respond to and compose texts
  • EN4-7D demonstrates understanding of how texts can express aspects of their broadening world and their relationships within it


  • explore and appreciate the aesthetic qualities in their own and other texts and the power of language to communicate information, ideas, feelings and viewpoints
  • explore and explain the ways authors combine different modes and media in creating texts, and the impact of these choices on the viewer/listener (ACELY1735)


  • plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, selecting aspects of subject matter and particular language, visual, and audio features to convey information and ideas(ACELY1725)


  • share, reflect on, clarify and evaluate opinions and arguments about aspects of literary texts (ACELT1627)
  • critically consider the ways in which meaning is shaped by context, purpose, form, structure, style, content, language choices and their own personal perspective
  • use imaginative texts as models to replicate or subvert textual conventions to create new texts compose a range of visual and multimodal texts using a variety of visual conventions, including composition, vectors, framing and reading pathway
  • discuss aspects of texts, for example their aesthetic and social value, using relevant and appropriate metalanguage (ACELT1803)


  • draw on experience to consider the ways the 'real world' is represented in the imaginary worlds of texts, including imaginative literature, film, media and multimedia texts

Stage 4 students must study examples of:

  • Visual texts

Critical and creative thinking


Student Activities


Explore Shaun Tan’s layout design for Dog.

Number of set tasks: 1

Creating emotion

Stduents consider how particular emotions can be conveyed through visual texts.

Number of set tasks: 1

The future

Students plan and create their own illustration for Dog.

Number of set tasks: 1

Background information

In 2022 the State Library of NSW acquired artworks, sketchbook pages, storyboards and oil sketches created by Shaun Tan for his picture book Dog (2020). These works reveal the process used by Tan to develop the published picture book.

Tan has received more than 50 Australian and international awards for his illustrated books, as well as an Academy Award in 2011 for the film adaptation of his picture book The Lost Thing (2000). Dog first appeared in the award-winning Tales from the Inner City (2018) published by Allen & Unwin, before it was redesigned and published as a standalone title in 2020. In the same year, Tan, who is of Australian, Malaysian and Chinese heritage, became the first person of colour to be awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal — one of the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children’s book illustration.

Additional Resources

Information about the picture book Dog from Shaun Tan’s website.

Dog (2020) is a redesigned excerpt from my collection Tales from the Inner City (2018). A story in verse and paintings, Dog imagines the bond between humans and dogs as ongoing cycle of death and rebirth through different places and times, from prehistory to the present and future. Originally published by Walker UK in small format, it’s also available in a larger format from Allen & Unwin Australia (November 2020).

The relationship between dogs and humans is unlike any other. There are perhaps few inter-species friendships so epic and transforming, spanning some 15,000 years, enduring the vagaries of history, the rise and fall of countless societies, shaping each in turn. Every time I see people walking their dogs at my local park, I never cease to be heartened by the endurance and affection of this bond, its strangeness, its apparent naturalness.

But fates are never quite aligned and our hearts so frequently broken. For many years I’ve had a news clipping on the pin-up board that overlooks my desk, a picture of a dog whose owner died in a tragic house-fire. There is something about the dog’s hard-to-read gaze that I’ve always found compelling. It reminds me of many stories such as that of the famous Hachiko, the Japanese dog that waited patiently at Shibuya train station every evening, up to nine years after his owner, a university professor, had died suddenly at work. The sheer loyalty and urgent optimism of dogs has always been a great inspiration for their human companions, who so often wander from such virtuous paths and anxiously question their place in the world. No matter what future meets our planet, no matter how transformed or tragic, even apocalyptic, it’s hard to imagine that a dog will not be there by our side, always urging us forward.