Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Arrival by Shaun Tan: Book Nook Breakdown

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (October 1, 2007)
ISBN: 978-0439895293
Buy This Book on Amazon: The Arrival

Today's installment is Shaun Tan's masterpiece of graphic narrative, The Arrival.

I first stumbled across this book back in October of 2007, while browsing the book kiosk in Boston's South Station. It was the morning and I was waiting for one of my friends to come into town. What struck me first was the binding; brown with a beautiful worn typeface. It had so much character. Everything about it was calling out to me. I picked it up and leafed through the pages. Instantly, I was speechless. I was in love. I knew I had found something special. It HAD to be mine. But I was torn: I didn't want to carry it around with me all day while I roamed the city. So I reluctantly decided to wait until my return to the station that afternoon to purchase it. All day long I thought about this book. I worried that someone would snatch it up in my absence. When I got back to South Station later that day I prayed it would still be there. Thankfully, it was! And I purchased it straight away.

Since then, it has gone on to receive well-deserved accolade and recognition for the masterpiece that it truly is.

The Arrival quickly became my absolute all-time favorite picture book. Ever. It's brilliant in every way. I could go on and on about my love for the main character's metaphorical immigrant experience. I could gush for days about the beauty of the soft sepia toned illustrations. But instead I'll just say that it is a touching, unique yet universal story that truly succeeds in allowing understanding and empathy for an experience everyone can identify with on some scale. We truly become one with the character, seeing a strange and magical world through the eyes of a stranger. It is a satisfying and mystifying experience.

The inherent bizarreness, confusion, and magic of entering an unfamiliar world lies intricately and meticulously detailed within these pages. An obvious labor of love on the part of Tan, who is one of the geniuses of contemporary picture books. His work never fails to challenge the audience to participate in the story. He pushes the limits of "children's" books and offers complex yet approachable ideas that I believe strengthen young readers visual literacy.

Being a sophisticated and complex wordless narrative, it requires the attention of the reader to fully grasp the arc of the story. Visual interpretation is key, and readers of all ages will be satisfied by the process of deciphering the pictures. Beyond that, the story itself is one that attempts to unite all people, no matter what background, into one common experience: knowing and understanding what it is like to be an outsider. This is an important lesson on compassion and empathy. What's not to love?


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