by Shaun Tan
New York: Arthur A. Levine Books
Told entirely in pictures, the story of an immigrant unfolds without specific time or place. Many strangers help him along his journey far from home.
The sepia tones of the opening chapter, where the protagonist packs his belongings and leaves his family for a long journey, convey a 19th-century family photo album quality. The stormy ocean voyage underscores the familiar history lesson... until the ship reaches harbor in the strange new land, and we realize that it's very strange indeed! Without words, the immigrant must navigate bureaucracy and find lodging and employment in a bustling city full of people and places nothing like what he knew back home. Some are friendly and helpful; others are gruff and hostile. He meets other travelers, who tell him their stories and how they came to be in this place through the perils of war or the glories of adventure. Once he has made a place for them, he is reunited with his family, who also adapt and blend their old customs with the new.
Here is a sampling of the pencil illustrations:
This book definitely makes my Top Ten. The depth of detail, the eloquent storytelling, the compelling twists and turns make it an excellent example of a Picturebook for Older Readers -- in this case, probably grades 7 and up. I was also pleased by the sense of mystery -- also present in Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia -- and unknowable context (frustrating to some, perhaps, but an opportunity to release imagination!). Even with some details unavailable, the story speaks to a common experience of searching for a place to belong. Adolescents on their own journeys may empathize with the traveler of The Arrival; those who have also traveled in a foreign country or emigrated in their childhood will have a double dose of recognition as our protagonist is introduced to new customs and strange food, navigates without a shared language, and handles homesickness and anxiety.