I’ve just spent a lovely chunk of my evening embracing Shaun Tan’s The Arrival... literally. I mean, I’ve actually been cradling the book in my arms and waxing philosophical to anyone who will listen. (My cat just abandoned my lap and wandered away rolling his eyes, in search of a quieter place to complete his snooze). I wouldn’t have believed I could love a Shaun Tan book as much as I adore his picture book, The Red Tree, but it would seem I am overruled.
I need hardly tell any book lover the premise of this story, as everyone bookish already knows. In fact, I was feeling a little shy about admitting that I hadn’t yet read The Arrival, but I simply can’t keep quiet about how moving and beautiful this book is. For those who’ve been hiding under a rock for the last six months, The Arrival is an immigration tale, the story of a man who leaves his home and family in search of a new life. It’s about the mystery, strangeness and magic of the new world. It’s about sacrifice and loneliness, young friendships, painful pasts and belonging. And, it doesn’t contain a single word. It’s all pictures. Glorious, glorious pictures.
I don’t want to write too much about this book, because I don’t want to overthink my response to it and take away from how rich and evocative an experience it was to read it for the first time. The man who arrives moves through the strange new city in sequences that feel vaguely dreamlike and full of wonder. So many emotions play through this story – loss, uncertainty, vulnerability, surprise, confusion, yearning, hope. There is an astonishing sense of scope and the narrative is utterly compelling, especially remarkable considering it’s a wordless book.
I’d like to know what person could possibly finish this book without wanting to open it right back up at the beginning and take it all in again. (I’d also like to know if everyone else who’s read it wants one of those crazy little cat/lizard/dino pets as much as I do). A book that makes me think as much as The Arrival does, automatically takes a giant step closer to a spot on my “special bookshelf,” for those books that make me feel content just by being what they are, perfectly.
One of the most powerful ideas that Tan’s story communicates is the notion that every story of immigration, every “arrival,” deserves respect and recognition, and that each such story is in some way, an original, highly personal experience, even though so so many others have taken journeys that seem similar.
There’s nothing I can write to convey exactly the way this book affected me. I would love to get kids reading it, lots of kids, and then listen in to their discussions later on. If you’re a teacher, you must read this. (If you’re not a teacher, you must read this). Anyone interested in using it in their classroom should check out what Monica Edinger’s awesome fourth grade class created in their unit of study on The Arrival. That’s what it’s all about people. Show this book to anyone who thinks graphic novels can’t stand up to “real literature.” Pshaw!