The Arrival Shaun Tan Image Analysis Essay

Comments on The Arrival

The following is an extract from an article written for Viewpoint Magazine, describing some of the ideas and process behind this book.

Looking over much of my previous work as an illustrator and writer, such as The Rabbits (about colonisation), The Lost Thing (about a creature lost in a strange city) or The Red Tree (a girl wandering through shifting dreamscapes), I realise that I have a recurring interest in notions of ‘belonging’, particularly the finding or losing of it. Whether this has anything to do with my own life, I’m not sure, it seems to be more of a subconscious than conscious concern. One contributing experience may have been that of growing up in Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, sandwiched between a vast desert and a vaster ocean. More specifically, my parents pegged a spot in a freshly minted northern suburb that was quite devoid of any clear cultural identity or history. A vague awareness of Aboriginal displacement (which later sharpened into focus with a project like The Rabbits) only further troubled any sense of a connection to a ‘homeland’ in this universe of bulldozed ‘tabula rasa’ coastal dunes, and fast-tracked, walled-in housing estates.

Being a half-Chinese at a time a place when this was fairly unusual may have compounded this, as I was constantly being asked ‘where are you from?’ to which my response of ‘here’ only prompted a deeper inquiry, ‘where do your parents come from?’  At least this was far more positive attention than the occasional low-level racism I experienced as a child, and which I also noticed directed either overtly or surreptitiously at my Chinese father from time to time. Growing up I did have a vague sense of separateness, an unclear notion of identity or detachment from roots, on top of that traditionally contested concept of what it is to be ‘Australian’, or worse, ‘un-Australian’ (whatever that might mean).

Beyond any personal issues, though, I think that the ‘problem’ of belonging is perhaps more of a basic existential question that everybody deals with from time to time, if not on a regular basis. It especially rises to the surface when things ‘go wrong’ with our usual lives, when something challenges our comfortable reality or defies our expectations – which is typically the moment when a good story begins, so good fuel for fiction. We often find ourselves in new realities – a new school, job, relationship or country, any of which demand some reinvention of ‘belonging’.

This was uppermost in my mind during the long period of work on The Arrival, a book which deals with the theme of migrant experience. Given my preoccupation with ‘strangers in strange lands’, this was an obvious subject to tackle, a story about somebody leaving their home to find a new life in an unseen country, where even the most basic details of ordinary life are strange, confronting or confusing – not to mention beyond the grasp of language. It’s a scenario I had been thinking about for a number of years before it crystallised into some kind of narrative form.

The book had no single source of inspiration, but rather represents the convergence of several ideas. I had been thinking at one stage about the somewhat invisible history of the Chinese in Western Australia, particularly in an area of South Perth once used as vast market gardens a century ago, which is now grassed parkland. I did a little research into who these people were and how they related to the Anglo-Australian community around them, and came to be particularly motivated by one short story, ‘Wong Chu and The Queen's Letterbox’ by the West Australian writer T.A.G. Hungerford, which draws on the author’s childhood memories of a strange, segregated group of misunderstood men, and considers their tragic isolation from families back in China.

Drawing on more immediate sources, my father came to Australia from Malaysia in 1960 to study architecture, where he met my mother in who was then working in a store that supplied technical pens (hence my existence some time later – I have a special appreciation for technical pens). Dad’s stories are sketchy, and usually focus on specific details, as is the way of most anecdotes  – the unpalatable food, too cold or too hot weather, amusing misunderstandings, difficult isolation, odd student jobs and so on. In researching a variety of other migrant stories, beginning with post-war Australia and then broadening out to periods of mass-migration to the US around 1900, it was the day to day details that seemed most telling and suggested some common, universal human experiences. I was reminded that migration is a fundamental part of human history, both in the distant and recent past. On gathering further anecdotes of overseas-born friends – and my partner who comes from Finland – as well as looking at old photographs and documents, I became aware of the many common problems faced by all migrants, regardless of nationality and destination: grappling with language difficulties, home-sickness, poverty, a loss of social status and recognisable qualifications, not to mention the separation from family.

In seeking to re-imagine such circumstances (of which I have no first-hand experience) my original idea for a fairly conventional picture book developed into a quite different kind of structure. It seemed that a longer, more fragmented visual sequence without any words would best captured a certain feeling of uncertainty and discovery I absorbed from my research. I was also struck with the idea of borrowing the ‘language’ of old pictorial archives and family photo albums I’d been looking at, which have both a documentary clarity and an enigmatic, sepia-toned silence. It occurred to me that photo albums are really just another kind of picture book that everybody makes and reads, a series of chronological images illustrating the story of someone’s life. They work by inspiring memory and urging us to fill in the silent gaps, animating them with the addition of our own storyline.

In ‘The Arrival’, the absence of any written description also plants the reader more firmly in the shoes of an immigrant character. There is no guidance as to how the images might be interpreted, and we must ourselves search for meaning and seek familiarity in a world where such things are either scarce or concealed. Words have a remarkable magnetic pull on our attention, and how we interpret attendant images: in their absence, an image can often have more conceptual space around it, and invite a more lingering attention from a reader who might otherwise reach for the nearest convenient caption, and let that rule their imagination.

I was particularly impressed by Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, having come across it for the first time while thinking about my migrant story. In silent pencil drawings, Briggs describes a boy building a snowman which then comes to life, and is introduced to the magical indoor world of light-switches, running water, refrigeration, clothing and so on; the snowman in turn introduces the boy to the night-time world of snow, air and flight. The parallels between this situation and my own gestating project were very strong, so I could not help reading the silent snowman and small boy as ‘temporary migrants’, discovering the ordinary miracles of each other’s country in a modest, enchanting fashion. It also confirmed the power of the silent narrative, not only in removing the distraction of words, but slowing down to reader so that they might mediate on each small object and action, as well as reflect in many different ways on the story as a whole.

Of course, this came at some expense, as words are wonderfully convenient conveyors of ideas. In their absence, even describing the simplest of actions, like someone packing a suitcase, buying a ticket, cooking a meal or asking for work threatened to become a very complicated, laborious and potentially slippery exercise in drawing. I had to find a way of carrying this kind of narrative that was practical, clear and visually economical.

Unwittingly, I had found myself working on a graphic novel rather than a picture book. There is not a great difference between the two, but in a graphic novel there is perhaps far more emphasis on continuity between multiple frames, actually closer in many ways to film-making than book illustration. I have never been a great reader of comics (having come at illustration as a painter) so much of my research was redirected to a study of different kinds of comics and graphic novels. What shapes are the panels? How many should be on a page? What is the best way to cut from one moment to the next? How is the pace of the narrative controlled, especially when there are no words? A useful reference was Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which details many aspects of ‘sequential art’ in a way that is both theoretical and practical, not least because it’s a textbook written as a comic – and very cleverly done. I noticed also that many Japanese comics (manga) use large tracts of silent narrative, and exploit a sense of visual timing that is slightly different from Western comics, which I found very instructive. Simultaneously, I had been working in some capacity as an animation director recently with a studio in London, adapting The Lost Thing as a short film (where much of the narrative is silent) and closely studying to the techniques used by storyboard artists and editors in that industry. All of these pieces of ‘research’ informed the style and structure of the book over several full-length revisions.

The actual process of then producing the final images came to be more like film-making than conventional illustration. Realising the importance of consistency over multiple panels, coupled with a stylistic interest in early photographs, I physically constructed some basic ‘sets’ using bits of wood and fridge-box cardboard, furniture and household objects. These became simple models for drawn structures in the book, anything from towering buildings to breakfast tables. With the right lighting, and some helpful friends acting out the roles of characters plotted in rough drawings, I was able to video or photograph compositions and sequences of action that seemed to approximate each scene. Selecting still images, I played with these by digitally, distorting, adding and subtracting, drawing over the top of them, and testing various sequences to see how they could be ‘read’. These became the compositional references for finished drawings that were produced by a more old-fashioned method – graphite pencil on cartridge paper. For each page of up to twelve images, the whole process took about a week… not including any rejects, of which there were several.

Much of the difficulty involved combining realistic reference images of people and objects into a wholly imaginary world, as this was always my central concept. In order to best understand what it is like to travel to a new country, I wanted to create a fictional place equally unfamiliar to readers of any age or background (including myself). This of course is where my penchant for ‘strange lands’ took flight, as I had some early notions of a place where birds are merely ‘bird-like’ and trees ‘tree-like’; where people dress strangely, apartment fixtures are confounding and ordinary street activities are very peculiar. This is what I imagine it must be like for many immigrants, a condition ideally examined through illustration, where every detail can be hand-drawn.

That said, imaginary worlds should never be ‘pure fantasy’, and without a concrete ring of truth, they can easily cripple the reader’s suspended disbelief, or simply confuse them too much. I’m always interested in striking the right balance between everyday objects, animals and people, and their much more fanciful alternatives. In the case of ‘The Arrival’, I drew heavily my own memories of travelling to foreign countries, that feeling of having basic but imprecise notions of things around me, an awareness of environments saturated with hidden meanings: all very strange yet utterly convincing. In my own nameless country, peculiar creatures emerge from pots and bowls, floating lights drift inquisitively along streets, doors and cupboards conceal their contents, and all around are notices that beckon, invite or warn in loud, indecipherable alphabets. These are all equivalents to some moments I’ve experienced as a traveller, where even simple acts of understanding are challenging.

One of my main sources for visual reference was New York in the early 1900s, a great hub of mass-migration for Europeans. A lot of my ‘inspirational images’ blu-tacked to the walls of my studio were old photographs of immigrant processing at Ellis Island, visual notes that provided underlying concepts, mood and atmosphere behind many scenes that appear in the book. Other images I collected depicted street scenes in European, Asian and Middle-Eastern cities, old-fashioned vehicles, random plants and animals, shopfront signs and posters, apartment interiors, photos of people working, eating, talking and playing, all of them chosen as much for their ordinariness as their possible strangeness. Elements in my drawings evolved gradually from these fairly simple origins. A colossal sculpture in the middle of a city harbour, the first strange sight that greets arriving migrants, suggests some sisterhood with the Statue of Liberty. A scene of a immigrants travelling in a cloud of white balloons was inspired by pictures of migrants boarding trains as well as the night-time spawning of coral polyps, two ideas associated by common underlying themes – dispersal and regeneration.

Even the most imaginary phenomena in the book are intended to carry some metaphorical weight, even though they don’t refer to specific things, and may be hard to fully explain. One of the images I had been thinking about for years involved a scene of rotting tenement buildings, over which are ‘swimming’ some kind of huge black serpents. I realised that these could be read a number of ways: literally, as an infestation of monsters, or more figuratively, as some kind of oppressive threat. And even then it is open to the individual reader to decide whether this might be political, economic, personal or something else, depending on what ideas or feelings the picture may inspire.

I am rarely interested in symbolic meanings, where one thing ‘stands for’ something else, because this dissolves the power of fiction to be reinterpreted. I’m more attracted to a kind of intuitive resonance or poetry we can enjoy when looking at pictures, and ‘understanding’ what we see without necessarily being able to articulate it. One key character in my story is a creature that looks something like a walking tadpole, as big as a cat and intent on forming an uninvited friendship with the main protagonist. I have my own impressions as to what this is about, again something to do with learning about acceptance and belonging, but I would have a lot of trouble trying to express this fully in words. It seems to make much more sense as a series of silent pencil drawings.

I am often searching in each image for things that are odd enough to invite a high degree of personal interpretation, and still maintain a ring of truth. The experience of many immigrants actually draws an interesting parallel with the creative and critical way of looking I try to follow as an artist. There is a similar kind of search for meaning, sense and identity in an environment that can be alternately transparent and opaque, sensible and confounding, but always open to re-assessment. I would hope that beyond its immediate subject, any illustrated narrative might encourage its readers take a moment to look beyond the ‘ordinariness’ of their own circumstances, and consider it from a slightly different perspective. One of the great powers of storytelling is that invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.

Harbour’  pencil on paper

Inspection’  pencil on paper

‘The City’  pencil on paper

The story of The Giants’  pencil on paper

‘The market’  pencil on paper

The place of nests’  pencil on paper

‘Ticket’  pencil on paper

‘Dinner’  pencil on paper

‘Four seasons’  pencil on paper

Myra: Given the surreal nature of the book, I thought that a non-linear collaborative blogpost with Fats might do it justice. The great thing about publishing online is that you can be as creative as you wish – within boundaries, of course. Thus, we attempt our very first ‘integrated thought-bubble’ to share with you how The Arrival has moved us in various ways. This would be non-sequential, punctuated with our attempts at poesies and painted images, and a celebration of non-sequiturs. Thus if you are looking for a summary, a plot, a logically-sequential narrative, alas, we promise to disappoint you.

Fats: When Myra came up with the idea of a collaborative post on Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, I had my own doubts not because I didn’t think it would be possible but because GatheringBooks has never been this busy. Tons of wordless picture books, panel discussion preparation, GB anniversary planning, free books for reviews, work and school overload, moving into a new place—you name it. Yet, somehow, we were able to make room for Shaun Tan’s masterpiece.

I found out about Shaun Tan when Myra mentioned him in one of our random conversations. If memory serves me right, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival was the inspiration for our wordless picture book theme for the months of March and April. (you are absolutely right, dearest Fats) I remember grabbing the only copy of The Arrival on the graphic novel section of Borders last January. While I enjoy paying less than what the book is actually worth, I don’t mind spending a few extra dollars for something that deserves a spot in my immaculate bookshelf.

Passing of the Seasons Marked by Cloud Patterns and Skeletal Flower [borne out of a leaf] Half-buried in Snow. 

Myra: I find that if one articulates the visual narrative of Shaun Tan, one ends up with poetry, snowy music, paintings sculpted by unseen hands in multiple shades of sepia. I am particularly taken by this image which begins with a leaf and ends in this fragile skeletal structure of a flower buried in snow – signifying the passing of time. It marks the space and distance creeping slowly, easing its way towards that time when our male protagonist is reunited with his family. Shaun Tan’s visual eloquence renders words unnecessary as the strands of time are woven out of its fabric through the gradual change in each image across different seasons. 

How about you Fats? Any favorite image?

Fats: All images in The Arrival carry in themselves a certain touch of charm and beauty. One of my favorite images is the two-page spread of cloud patterns. As I have mentioned in my review of David Wiesner’s Sector 7, I have a fascination for clouds that I cannot explain. If clouds have a mind of their own, they would have been grateful for Shaun Tan for having been well represented. I like how Shaun Tan used the snapshots of cloud patterns to highlight the passing of days, if not seasons. Moreover, the clouds appear to be firsthand witnesses to the migrant experience as they oversee the immigrants traveling in a ship across the ocean.

Ports of Entries – Ellis Islands of the World, Human Geese Flying South.

Myra: In the Artist’s Note, Shaun Tan enumerated his inspiration for the ‘ports of entries’ mini-chapter found in his definitive tome for the travelers/wanderers of the earth:

“Much of this book was inspired by anecdotal stories told by migrants of many different countries and historical periods, including my father who came to Western Australia from Malaysia in 1960. Two important references were The Immigrants by Wendy

Lowenstein and Morag Loh (Hyland House 1977), and Tales from a Suitcase by Will Davies and Andrea Dal Bosco (Lothian Books 2001) – many thanks to all those who described their journeys and impressions in these books. The drawing of migrants on a ship pays homage to a painting by Tom Roberts, Going South, 1886, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Other visual references and inspirations include a 1912 photograph of a newsboy announcing the Titanic sinking, picture postcards of New York from the turn of the century, photographs of street scenes from post-war Europe, Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film The Bicycle Thief, and Gustave Dore’s engraving Over London by Rail circa 1870. Several drawings of immigrant processing, passport pictures, and the “arrival hall” are based on photographs taken at Ellis Island, New York, from 1892 to 1954, many of which can be found in the collection of the Ellis Island Migration Museum.”

Myra (cont) I was personally reminded of the recent blog post I made on Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse where I also shared quite a number of pictures from Ellis Island as based on Rifka’s story of migration as evidenced through her letters.

The images as clearly seen below highlight that sense of unfamiliarity in a foreign land: the need to be tagged, classified, poked and prodded to determine whether you are indeed suitable for your host country – your hair checked for lice, your skin for infectious diseases, your mouth for bacteria.

I am perhaps fortunate in the sense that the zeitgeist of the present time allows for greater fluidity as citizens become more transnational. International travels are perceived as a matter of course rather than a matter of national threat (at least for most cases). While it allows for greater flexibility (again in some cases), it also carries with it a host of emerging problems with the concept of citizenship questioned, and ‘multiculturalism’ being a byword – with very few well-meaning people understanding what it truly means.

Fats: While it is true that there is now greater fluidity for people to migrate to other countries, there is still no denying that they are still subject to the tedious immigration process, comprised mainly of physical exams and interviews—at least from what I remember from my own experience. I hated the long lines and the seemingly endless wait period, but mostly I didn’t like the growing anticipation of whether or not I pass the immigration process. (I particularly was not very fond of the woman behind the glass counter who facilitated my mock interview. Luckily, the consul was far nicer than she was.)

My port of entry was Hawaii, and it seemed like it was only yesterday when I arrived in the United States. It was a day to remember, not because I have finally set foot on American soil, but because I almost did not make it through the immigration counter, all thanks to the fake silver ring on my finger! All silliness aside, Shaun Tan’s visual narrative reflects the emotional distress experienced by immigrants as they try to make their way to an unfamiliar place where their future is without certainty.

Snapshots of Pain, Muted Narratives of Displacement, Wordless Tales of Deliverance

Myra: Shaun Tan’s unparalleled genius is evident in his including snippets of narratives within the main narrative. As we see how monstrous black scales made the male protagonist – and his family – leave their country of origin – we also get to see in cinematic, almost kaleidoscopic sepiatoned way – the stories of other immigrants navigating their way around a graphic-novelisque-land where the instructions are written in a foreign language; the words and accents unfamiliar. And he accomplishes this without saying a single word. He explains the power (and the limitations of the wordless narrative in his website) – some fragments of his ideas I pasted here for easy perusal: 

“In ‘The Arrival’, the absence of any written description also plants the reader more firmly in the shoes of an immigrant character. There is no guidance as to how the images might be interpreted, and we must ourselves search for meaning and seek familiarity in a world where such things are either scarce or concealed. Words have a remarkable magnetic pull on our attention, and how we interpret attendant images: in their absence, an image can often have more conceptual space around it, and invite a more lingering attention from a reader who might otherwise reach for the nearest convenient caption, and let that rule their imagination.

I was particularly impressed by Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman,

having come across it for the first time while thinking about my migrant story. In silent pencil drawings, Briggs describes a boy building a snowman which then comes to life, and is introduced to the magical indoor world of light-switches, running water, refrigeration, clothing and so on; the snowman in turn introduces the boy to the night-time world of snow, air and flight. The parallels between this situation and my own gestating project were very strong, so I could not help reading the silent snowman and small boy as ‘temporary migrants’, discovering the ordinary miracles of each other’s country in a modest, enchanting fashion. It also confirmed the power of the silent narrative, not only in removing the distraction of words, but slowing down to reader so that they might mediate on each small object and action, as well as reflect in many different ways on the story as a whole.

Of course, this came at some expense, as words are wonderfully convenient conveyors of ideas. In their absence, even describing the simplest of actions, like someone packing a suitcase, buying a ticket, cooking a meal or asking for work threatened to become a very complicated, laborious and potentially slippery exercise in drawing. I had to find a way of carrying this kind of narrative that was practical, clear and visually economical.”

Fats: I see what you mean when you said that it was the monstrous black scale that drove him to leave because as soon as the man saw his drawing, the former started telling his own story—of how a bunch of giant human beings “vacuumed” people out of his town. While the idea is far-fetched and may not fit the images that followed this scene, I see the monstrous black scales as the protagonist’s point of reference. (I really wish at this point I have a name to call him.) Setting aside the rest of the images in the book, the idea that he was showing it to inquire as to whether the other man knew how to go back to that town struck me in that scene alone. Probably because I miss my own home, because I haven’t visited the Philippines since I set foot in the U.S. three and a half years ago. (Three and a half years might not be a long time for most of you, but when my younger sister has gone there more than twice then three and a half years is a long time for me.)

Myra: Among the immigrant stories I visually celebrated, I was moved by the wordless sharing of the old man with the cone hat. I figured he was a soldier.

I send a silent prayer (pixie dust, four leaf clovers) to warriors far from home, skillfully weaving their way around sandstorms, their hearts in their throats, photos wiped away from their PCs to remove all traces of their identities – treading dangerously on the boundaries of a war that we only read about in the papers and that which they live through on a daily basis – may they find their way home (wherever it may be) with all digits, limbs, heart and mind intact.

Fats: I agree with you, Myra. Indeed, that scene was heartrendering. The wounds of war never fully heal. He was a soldier who fought hard and he carried the burden of war all his life even after it was over. The impact of war is beyond measure. It is an atomic bomb that wipes out generations and generations of people.

What is worth noting in the old man’s story is Shaun Tan’s skillful way of using shades to alter the “mood” of the story. If you noticed, the old man’s story started in sepia, when he was just starting his career as a soldier. As the story progressed and war took place, the sepiatoned images slowly turned into shades of grey, depicting images of skeletal remains piled up on the charred and ash-covered ground.

What I also liked about Shaun Tan’s work is the blow-by-blow, scene-by-scene snapshots that outline the details of the story. Still on the old man’s story, I liked the series of images portraying the crippled old man, how he fell on the ground but slowly got himself up again. Shaun Tan successfully tells the story using polaroid-like images that also bring to mind stop-motion animation sequences.

The makings of a tale-within-a-tale in this book is trully spellbinding. Somehow, it reminds me of Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven. Each of the characters that the protagonist meets in The Arrival has his own migration experience to share. Reading the book made me realize that the definition of “migrants” is not limited to people moving into another country. Escaping from the harsh realities of life is a feat to accomplish. Each of the characters “escaped” from their own reality and started a new life somewhere, not necessarily another country. It may be another town or city.

Every time I hold The Arrival in my hand, I feel like I’m holding a precious, nowhere-near-wornout-but-still-age-old family heirloom. I flip through the pages and I see an entire life spread out in front of me. The pictures do not just tell stories; they share a history of people, a certain commonality that binds us all. We are, after all, migrants across the universe.

Family Packed in a Suitcase and Celebrating Home Amidst Flying Paper Boats.

Myra: I am moved by this inspired image by Shaun Tan. The parallels between a music box and ‘family packed in a suitcase’ is simply mind-blowing. Again it brings to mind some of the key issues I’ve raised in my review of Jeannie Baker’s Home/Belonging and Window about finding a sense of ‘home’ within and knowing one’s place in the world irrespective of one’s country of origin. 

Allow me to quote once again from Shaun Tan himself (source here) as he talks about his own experience of ‘where one comes from’ – a fairly-common question asked of my nephews in the States who are born there and for all intents and purposes American Citizens, yet borne of Filipino parentage.

Being a half-Chinese at a time a place when this was fairly unusual may have compounded this, as I was constantly being asked ‘where are you from?’ to which my response of ‘here’ only prompted a deeper inquiry, ‘where do your parents come from?’  At least this was far more positive attention than the occasional low-level racism I experienced as a child, and which I also noticed directed either overtly or surreptitiously at my Chinese father from time to time. Growing up I did have a vague sense of separateness, an unclear notion of identity or detachment from roots, on top of that traditionally contested concept of what it is to be ‘Australian’, or worse, ‘un-Australian’ (whatever that might mean).

Beyond any personal issues, though, I think that the ‘problem’ of belonging is perhaps more of a basic existential question that everybody deals with from time to time, if not on a regular basis. It especially rises to the surface when things ‘go wrong’ with our usual lives, when something challenges our comfortable reality or defies our expectations – which is typically the moment when a good story begins, so good fuel for fiction. We often find ourselves in new realities – a new school, job, relationship or country, any of which demand some reinvention of ‘belonging’.

Fats: I remember crying myself to sleep on my first week in Hawaii and my first few nights in California. (Yes, I’m an emotional junkie.) While it is true that I have adapted quite well over the years, I continue to face the “problem” of belonging. Job-hunting in America is different from that in the Philippines (then again, I didn’t really experience this back home). Education is the same way. And, as Myra had mentioned, relationships. 

Having an Italian-American boyfriend is a mini-challenge in and of itself. Rice is a staple food in the Philippines so, of course, I love it to death. Unfortunately, Mikey is not a big rice-eater even though he grew up in a farm. There would be days when we would “argue” over my rice intake. I tried to explain to him the Asian part of me in case he failed to notice, that I cannot live without rice, and that I’ll go through withdrawal without eating rice for 3 or more days. LOL. Luckily, he doesn’t mind trying Filipino food and ends up liking most of them. Still, the rice remains an issue to this day.

Digressions aside, everyone will have the “problem” of belonging, immigrants or not. I remember an essay I wrote in my English class back in college. I wrote that each is an alien to his own place. It does not matter where you are in the world, because even when you’re back “home,” you will still face the same dilemma. I guess part of “belonging” is man’s continuous search for contentment. It seems that we will find belongingness when we are fully content with our lives.

Teacher Resources and Book Awards – Shaun Tan is the Man

Here is a list of the awards received by this book as sourced from Arthuralevinebooks.com.

New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award
2006 Cybils Award
Bologna Ragazzi Award, Special Mention
Spectrum Award
Junior Library Guild Selection
World Fantasy Artist of the Year
Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2007
New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007
Amazon.com’s Best Teen Book of 2007
2007 Parents’ Choice Gold Award
A Book Sense Winter 2007-2008 Top Ten Children’s Pick
A New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing
New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2007
Rocky Mountain News, A Top Ten Book of the Year
The Columbus Dispatch, A Best Book of 2007 
Booklist Editors’ Choice 2007
School Library Journal Best Book of 2007
Washington Post Best Book for Young People for 2007
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon for Fiction
ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2008
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008
ALA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2008
Horn Book Fanfare Book 2007
Metropolitan Home Magazine’s Design 100, 2008
An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, 2008
2008 Locus Award, Best Art Book
2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, special citation for excellence in graphic storytelling
CCBC Choices 2008
Nominated for an International Horror Guild Award, Illustrated Narrative

It is not surprising then that there are quite a number of resources available for this graphic novel. Let me begin with a few comprehensive reviews written about the book. This link shows the New York Times Sunday Book Review of The Arrival entitled “Stranger in a Strange Land” as written by Gene Luen Yang. Another exhaustive post is from Caviglia’s Cabinet of Curiosities while this thoughtful review is from Saffron Tree. It is also interesting to note that there is a film and theatre adaptation of this book as could be seen in Shaun Tan’s website. Absolutely stunning theater production. It was also well-received and was named ‘Best Production’ for 2006 at the Perth Theatre Trust/Actors Equity Guild Award.

In this website created by Australia’s Department of Education where there is support provided for specific titles and authors for teachers, one can also find this downloadable PDF linkwhich is from CMIS Focus on Fiction site (Fiction Focus, Vol. 21, No. 1, published in 2007) which contains a detailed article on how students found the book as well as how it can be used as a valuable resource for English teachers. I also liked reading through this Guest Post from Drawing Words and Writing Pictures website where an English teacher from Cambridge England talked about discussing The Arrival in a secondary school English class. This downloadable PDF link created by GardensTheatre in Australiais an 8-paged, highly exhaustive Teacher Notes on the use of The Arrival alongside a curriculum framework that makes use of in-class activities as well as discussion questions after the theatre version of the book has been viewed by the students. My favorite, though, is this downloadable PDF link by WindyHollowbooks which talks about not just The Arrival but also quite a number of Shaun Tan’s artworks such as The Bird King, and Tales from Outer Suburbia. What I like about this post is its incisive ability to tease out the Visual Literacy Discussion Points, the themes in Shaun Tan’s artwork, and an outline of Language and Literacy Extension activities for students.

Shaun Tan was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1974. His talents as an artist were recognized when he started attending school as a child. He also painted images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and is now working full time as a freelance artist and author in Melbourne (source here). Click here to be taken to his official website.

Video Clips on The Arrival

I have also taken it upon myself to build this collection of video clips of Shaun Tan interviews as done by Hachette Australia. I believe that it would provide a clearer picture of what it was like for him to have created this piece of work that he dedicated to his parents. Enjoy!

Shaun Tan’s Journey as an Illustrator by Hachette Australia

Insights into Madness and Nonsense by Shaun Tan

Hand of the Maker Revealed

Migration and Multiculturalism

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic, Inc. 2006. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.

PictureBook Challenge Update (although technically this is a graphic novel hehe): 68 of 72

PoC Reading Challenge Update: 33 (of 25)

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