The Lost Thing discussion guide



Author: Shaun Tan

Illustrator:Shaun Tan

Publisher: Hachette

Synopsis: The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice it’s presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature, and attempts to find out where it belongs.

Reasons for selection: This picture book for older readers is an interesting combination of text and image which provokes thoughtful responses. The mysterious 'lost thing' and its relationship with the enigmatic narrator, the desolate urban setting and the lack of engagement of most of the human characters, plus the  invitation to ponder on ''what it all means', combine to make this a good choice for higher attaining readers at the top end of Key Stage 2. 

There is an animated short film of the book, which make this a good choice for a class engaged in a  'from page to screen' topic.

Discussion topics


Before reading:

Withhold the images and read the text aloud to the class or group. As soon as you have finished ask them to draw the lost thing. Share and discuss the images. Talk about other images that were created when you read the text aloud. What do they imagine the narrator of the story looks like? 

During reading:

  • Give each child a copy of the book and allow time for them to read.
  • Invite them to make notes of their first responses.
    • Where there any surprises?
    • Did the story remind you of anything else you have read or seen?
    • Did you find anything puzzling or strange?
    • What questions remain unanswered at the end of the book?
  • Share notes and discuss

Supplementary questions:

  • The cover: read what is written on the inside flap of the French fold.
    • Who do you think wrote this?
    • Who is the post card on the back from and to?
    • What is 'suburbia'? Would you expect exciting adventures to happen in suburbia?
  • The Narrator: who wrote this story?
    • Why do you think the narrator looks after the lost thing?
    • Choose three words to describe the narrator and share them with your group. As a group decide on the three best words - you need to be able to explain why you have chosen them.
    • Has the narrator changed in anyway at the end of the story as a result of his encounter witht he lost thing?

The setting

  • Describe the setting in your own words.
    • How does the setting make you feel?
    • What colours has Shaun Tan used?
    • Is it similar or different to where you live? in what ways?
    • Would you like to live here? Why?
    •  Select two or three images for close looking (e.g. the beach, the image with Shaun and pete sitting on top of the house, the inner city high level view looking down on Shaun and the lost thing

The lost thing

  • Why do only a few people see the lost thing?
  • How can Shaun tell the thing is lost? How can he tell the thing is friendly?
  • Read the following statements and decide if they are true, untrue or you are unsure. (this works best if the statements are printed and cut out so they can be placed in 3 piles). use this as the basis for follow-up discussion and to deepen the children's understanding and response to text.

There is only 1 lost thing in the entire world

The lost thing is lonely

The lost thing looks for lonely people

The lost thing wants to be alone

The lost thing is invisible

The lost thing is in Shaun’s imagination

Only children and animals can see the lost thing

The lost thing is a machine

The lost thing is frightening

The lost thing is an animal

The lost thing comes from another planet

The lost thing is frightened

The lost thing is happy to be different

Shaun is a lost thing

The lost thing escaped from the zoo

The lost thing is looking for friends

The lost thing wants to be the same as everyone else


Typography and design

  • How does the design of the book help to tell the story?
    • What sort of paper is used for the pages?
    • What sort of lettering is used for the text


  • Is there any humour in this story? 
  • Look up the word 'satire' in what way could 'The Lost Thing' be described as a satire?


What happens at the end of this story?


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