Never Leave a Red Sock on the Clothesline


Show the image without the title first.

  • What can you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? Add your ideas to this grid: See, Think, Wonder.
  • Describe the rabbit. Choose the best words and phrases to help someone imagine what you can see.
  • How do you know that the rabbit is big? Why is it so big?
  • Where did it come from?
  • How do you feel towards it?
  • What is it doing?
  • What are the two boys doing? Why are they sat so close to the wall? Why does one boy have his hand over the other’s mouth? Do you think they’re talking? How are they feeling? Act out this scene.
  • Is the crow important?
  • Is the washing line important?
  • Is the setting important?

Share the title.

  • Why shouldn’t you leave a red sock on the clothesline?
  • Has something happened before?
  • Who left the red sock on the clothesline? Did they know that they shouldn’t do it?
  • What do you think is going to happen?

Read Shaun Tan’s commentary of this picture after exploring the illustration yourself:

This was one of the first images conceived for the book, before I knew what it might even be about. I originally sketched children cowering behind a fence, hunted by a big black dog, but the familiarity of fairytale wolves felt too ‘loaded’, so I transformed the antagonist into a big rabbit. This actually feels more unsettling to me than a wolf – a soft herbivore turned predator. The landscape evolved into a kind of residential area behind old factories, commonly seen around inner Melbourne suburbs where I live. The red sock was added later, adding a mysterious narrative to the picture and offering a natural (if inexplicable) title; and when it came to colouring the rabbit, a deep crimson felt right. It’s not necessarily a demonic rabbit, but might be part of a local mythology known only to these boys. All you know is that it’s probably not a good thing – a contemporary opposite of Clifford the Big Red Dog (a popular children’s character from the 60s).

The water tank and building are compositional details that suggest a fairly dry and bleak backyard, and I get a vague sense of drought when looking at this picture. The light illuminates the space but also seems to trap the figures, pinning them down like insects to a board: nobody can move. It’s like some kind of terrible deadlock, punctuated by restrained breaths and heartbeats, each waiting for the other to make a move. The biggest risk is that the younger boy can’t keep his mouth shut. I think this general feeling of domestic strife is open to all manner of interpretation.


  • Have any of Shaun’s comments caused you to change your opinions?
  • Write the myth of the red rabbit.
  • Write the story around this scene.

Image credit: Shaun Tan
‘Rules of Summer’
Lothian Books/Hachette Australia

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 09:39h, 23 February Reply

    Awesome my teacher luved it and I think it’s amazing.

Post A Comment