Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

If you haven't read any Shaun Tan yet, what is wrong with you? The Arrival is a masterpiece for readers of all ages. Like The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia is fabulous and stands up to extensive rereading, spending time examining the details of his illustrations. A good example is the title page spread, showing a woman rowing a boat through the air down a suburban street, a tiny rain cloud watering her potted plants, while a man watering his yellow lawn with a hose watches her. One of the mailboxes along the street is a birdhouse. In the newspaper stories in the background of another story, ('The Amnesia Machine'), there are entertaining bits: "Locals are warned not to approach the pink flamingo, which is considered by the authorities to be 'highly dangerous' in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. 'It's only a matter of time before it kills a small child,' said one resident too afraid to be named."

Unlike The Arrival, Tales is not a wordless book. The stories in Tales are all brief, however, sometimes less than a page of text. Water buffalo hang out in vacant lots and give advice. Exchange students come in bizarre shapes and sizes, like Eric, who is paper-thin and about ankle-height to a human. Gifts are given to a rooftop reindeer on the nameless holiday. Hidden rooms can contain paradise gardens. Backyard missiles become part of the suburban landscape. Surrealism for everyone; Grade 4 to adult.

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