Review of The Arrival

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School     Levine/Scholastic     128 pp.
10/07      978-0-439-89529-3      $19.99

From a bleak, sunless city haunted by the threat of scaled and serpentine monsters, a man sets forth to seek a new life in a new land, leaving his wife and daughter behind. His steamship voyage with a host of refugees takes him to a strange shore indeed, a country with its own architecture, alphabet, technologies — even the pets look different. It’s the triumph of this lavish yet somberly monochromatic wordless book that readers are put right into the refugee’s shoes: we’re as out of place as he, learning the customs of the country in step with the protagonist. With him, for example, we figure out how to use the transport system, and once aloft in the steam-driven air-ferry, we sit alongside him as another passenger tells her own story of imprisonment and escape. Small, meticulously composed square panels, sometimes twelve to a page, move the action along while larger pictures and double-page spreads display surreally majestic cityscapes as well as scenes of the disaster and oppression that led the nameless protagonist and others to seek this welcoming land. Subtle shifts from gray to brown to golden tones underline the chiaroscuro of the story’s themes; all is warm light when the man and his family are united once again.

From the November/December 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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