Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Arrival

The Arrival

Shaun Tan
Graphic Novel
For ages 10 and up
Scholastic, 2007   ISBN: 978-0439895293

It is early morning and a man is packing his suitcase. He puts in a photograph of his family and closes the lid. Soon he and his wife and daughter leave their home to go to the train station where they say their goodbyes and the man gets on the train.

The man continues his journey on a ship where he looks at the photo of his family as he eats a solitary bowl of soup. The ship is full of people who are all going to the same land as the man.

At last they arrive, and what a land it is! It is such a fabulous, such a fantastical looking place. Soon after docking all the passengers are subjected to a rigorous immigration process which takes a long time, is confusing, and which eventually allows the man to access the bizarre and bewildering city beyond. He looks about him not sure what to think of the peculiar creatures, strange contraptions, and perplexing goings one that he sees taking place all around him. He does not understand the language at all well and has difficulty reading the maps and books. In the end he draws a picture of a bed to ask one of the locals where he might be able to find a place to stay.

When he does find a place to stay it is not at all what he is used to and he has to share his room with a very strange creature which has a long tail and which does not look like any animal he has ever seen before. But the creature seems friendly enough and it comes with the room. It also follows the man wherever he goes. Even when he goes looking the animal accompanies him.

Thankfully the man soon discovers that the city is full of people like himself, immigrants. Many are willing to help him. They tell him their stories, they show him what food to eat, and they make him feel welcome.

It is not easy for the man to find jobs but he gets job here and there. Some work out and some do not. But over time the man is able to send money home to his family. Perhaps soon they will be able to join him.

This wordless graphic novel is quite unlike any other. With extraordinary skill and sensitivity Shaun Tan tells a timeless story of an immigrant who is trying to find a way to provide for his family and to build a new life for them all. We get not know not only the main character but the other immigrants that he comes into contact with. Many of them have terrifying stories to tell about their former lives and we cannot help but feel grateful that they are now living in safety in their new homeland. Incredible artwork full of details capture the expressions and emotions of the characters perfectly. We know how lost and lonely the man feels, and we know how much he misses his family. We know too how important his new friends are to him.

This is a book which readers will want to look at again and again, and at every reading they will find discover something new to treasure.