Intro to Graphic Novels: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival

See Shaun Tan’s website for more information about The Arrival.

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.





About CBethM

I'm a book lover and technology geek who happens to also be a high school English teacher, National Writing Project teacher consultant, and certified school librarian. The opinions I offer here are reflective of my thoughts and opinions and not that of my employer, family, or friends.
This entry was posted in Graphic Novel, Summer 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Intro to Graphic Novels: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

  1. Denise Keogh says:

    I am a high school English teacher in Indiana. I would like to use this book with my creative writing class.
    I loved The Arrival – but I admit I struggled with it as I kept trying press my own prior knowledge into the story line. I am always trying to fill in the gaps for my students when they don’t seem to be able to reference or place a piece of literature. I knew Tan was from Australia, then I inferred NYC into the story from the images (part II). I wanted the story to be more concrete than it was. After reading the book, I went to the website, read about Tan’s creating the book, then re-read the book without trying to make it “fit” into my cranial filing system. By letting go of the effort to establish the setting in a single real place, I was able to relax and ride the story. How many times do I miss my students struggling with pieces that don’t fit in their filing system?

    • Denise – One of the things that I think is so powerful about this book is that it is open-ended and – as you note – not set in a real place. I think this is a book that really forces us to think about how we fill in gaps as readers. I used it with a class of undergrads and once one person made the NYC connection, almost the entire class shifted to thinking of it as a story of immigrants coming to the US. I had to push them hard to consider that there were other ways to read it. This meant getting outside of their own experiential knowledge to that point and doing some investigating.

      I love that you mentioned “filling in gaps” – that language that I often use with my preservice teachers. You mention it in terms of you helping your students fill in the gaps, what if you shifted that slightly to thinking about how you could help them learn how to fill in their own gaps. Maybe brainstorm what else you (as a class) could investigate on the internet to help broaden perspectives of the book. This could in term help some of those students that are missing “pieces from their filing system” to begin to fill in some of that themselves.

  2. I love this book as a way to have conversations about symbolism in literature. Shaun Tan worked so hard to create a world that was intentionally not like any other and I love how it pushes me to really consider what the characters are experiencing. It makes it harder to connect to my own experiences, but that is part of the whole point I think. That no one experience of an immigrant is the same as any other. Even though he ends up having a community and friends who support him, we explicitly see how each character’s story is different.
    The fact that we only see the story in images and have a few meaningless “words” also forces me as the reader to consider what it means to not be able to communicate or understand communications. The undergrad students in my classroom are very unsettled by this, some spend a decent amount of time trying to “crack the code” in order to understand the words. Again, Tan intentionally pushes us out of our comfort zone as readers in a way that helps us connect to the main character.

    • My childrens literature professor for my Masters in Reading & Language Arts introduced us to this book, but she purposely avoided telling us anything about it. Each of us was challenged to take it home and try to figure out what is happening. I remember sitting with my husband on the couch and the moment when each of us figured it out. I love the lack of words because it forces the reader to feel like someone who doesn’t know the language. It’s a powerful story. I completely agree that Tan is pushing us out of our comfort zone.

  3. Terry says:

    Denise and childrenslitcrossroads–wow, you gave me food for thought. I really just dropped by this page to say how much I love this book, but your exchange really made me think. I also sort of imposed the idea of “oh, this is an allegory about the immigrant experience” right onto the book. And of course thought of making it some kind of supplemental book to a “unit” on immigration, probably for the lower grades (meaning, say, 5th-8th).

    But then thinking about posting here, I thought it would also make a good book to start talking about dystopian worlds/literature, too. Hmm!

    I also just think it would be fun to stash this in a classroom library (I am still thinking of 5th-8th grade classrooms, I guess) and let students “stumble” across it, as a sort of not-quite-hidden treasure, and see how they respond to it that way. 🙂

    I really love all of Shaun Tan’s books–The Lost Thing is just…mindblowingly lovely! He also writes really great essays on creativity in general that make great reading for older (high school/college) readers.

  4. I just picked this up at the library and am anxious to “read” it. I am definitely intrigued by the format: a wordless graphic novel?!

  5. CBethM says:

    I felt like this had so much in common with poetry. It’s a recreation of an experience. There are parts we can understand – like the frame of the immigrant experience we’re all trying to use (there are more than enough clues to set us up to do this from the first pages). There are parts that challenge us – the fantastic works it takes place in, for instance. And the language. And what drove him to leave in the first place. (The lists and lists of things that monster task could represent…!)
    What caught my eye when I reread this today was the animals. Particularly the little pet (?) creature that adopts him in his new home. Something about the role of this animal stuck with me. He seems less alone with it. (I can relate to that!) In the company of other people, he looks lost and frustrated. (I can understand that.) No words are necessary to have a relationship with a dog or cat or fantastical creature like his.

    • Jen S says:

      I’d like to know what the fantastical animals represent as well. Some sort of connection to the origami that he leaves with the little girl at the beginning. Interesting book. Amazing art for sure. Not sure I totally “got” it.

  6. Pingback: ‘Reading’ my first graphic novel | Books are my Bling

  7. Ciara_H says:

    I was so excited when this book arrived in the post yesterday. The reason I chose it is because of the lack of words- I find that when I’m reading a regular book I sometimes pass by a descriptive paragraph or two in my eager to know what is happening with the plot. But this can’t be done with The Arrival and I found that I read it slowly and looked at each image in detail. I also love how the stories were told of the other emigrants- the man running away from the giants and the girl with the book. As others have stated here I felt really pushed out of my comfort zone and not just by this being my first graphic novel, but because I had no words to rely on for a narrative.

  8. Jen S says:

    This book left me with more questions than answers, and perhaps that was Tan’s intent. I didn’t read his website yet, but I’m glad I had an opportunity to “discover” this book through this blog/class since I missed this one when it first came out.

    Here are my wonderings:
    1. What is the monster/dragon? Fear?
    2. Why is he leaving his family in the first place? Work? A job? At some point I thought there might be a war, but not sure??
    3. Those little animals he collected along the way – imaginary? Symbolic?

    I said this on the Chopsticks board, but I’ll say it again here. Books like these remind me of the movie Black Swan. So much symbolism swirling right in front of my eyes, but I’m not very good at figuring out what it means. I need a class in that!!

    • Sherry Gick says:

      I agree! I could appreciate the beautiful illustrations but felt like there was so much I just didn’t understand.

      • CBethM says:

        I think that’s what makes this book such a good one to discuss. There’s so much that is left open to discussion and interpretation. It’s more like poetry than a narrative to me.

  9. Sarah says:

    Hello, I am a sixth grade language arts teacher. Part of what I loved about this book is the story that each of the characters “told” the new immigrant when he entered the new land. I felt like each person he met along the way came from another land for a different reason, war being one of them. I was also happy to read the ending when his family was able to join him again in the new land. Thank you for the opportunity to join this discussion.

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