Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Arrival, by Shaun Tan: The Tour de Force of Wordless Graphic Novels

I went down to the library this morning to pick up some graphic novels to keep me occupied during this last week of vacation. One of the books I picked up was The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. The Arrival is the ultimate graphic novel, it is quite literally all graphics, there is not a single word in the entire story. Also, this book doesn't necessarily qualify as a "picture book," something like a Dr. Seuss or another book you'd see in a primary classroom, it is much deeper and multi-dimensional.

From the top, the visuals of this story are unbelievable. It's a story of immigration, of a man leaving behind his wife and daughter and heading to a new, strange, industrialized world. Upon his arrival, the language is strange, the customs are strange, and the man is confused and lost. What is amazing is how well the images capture this, and how the reader becomes confused and lost as well. There were times when I was viewing this book that I felt confused and lost, that I found myself trying to understand the man and his thoughts, and that is the very essence of this wordless book.

How good is this book? I can put it best in two different ways. First of all, on goodreads.com (a book social site that I discuss frequently in this blog), there is one book that I've come across that carries an average rating of 5 out of 5 stars, and it is this book. Secondly, every teacher in the United States should have a copy of this book, and should go through it, in great depth with their classes.

Wordless books are great to use in the classroom, and yet, oddly, are something I do not have a lot of experience using. The book Zoom (Picture Puffin), by Istvan Banyai, is a wonderful wordless book in which you continue to zoom out of a picture, revealing more and more of the world as you do. It's a captivating story that students are easily drawn in to and want to experience time and again. The book Zoom has become a mainstay in literacy classrooms across the world, from kindergarten to high school classes, and I highly recommend it.

But wait, back to The Arrival and the classroom usage of the wordless book. There is a great many resources out there that discuss the merit of wordless books and the many different contexts in which they can be utilized. On EverythingESL.net, there is an article by Judie Haynes titled Wonderful World of Wordless Books in which ideas for the implementation of wordless books as literacy lessons are given (in the context of ESL students, but honestly, every child can benefit from ESL instruction, especially in the elementary setting). There is also a great wikispace that's all about reading wordless books, it is aptly titled How to Read a Wordless Book, and contains in depth examples of using The Arrival.

This is the first review of a wordless book that I have done on this blog, but now that I am thinking about it, I want to encounter more of these. Those of you who are more involved in this type of literature, please share some of the better ones you have read. Please, pick up The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, and "read" it. There are so many ways that this book could be utilized, and I'm just scratching the surface here in this posting.


Dee Ratterree said...

This is great and one of the things that wordless books and graphic novels/comic books share is developing an ability to sequence, critical in reading for understanding. They also seem to unleash some fantastic imaginative art, so I love wordless books. Some of my favorites:

Banyai's Re-Zoom and The Other Side

Antoine Guillope: One Scary Night

Jae Su Liu: Yellow Umbrella

Suzy Lee: Wave

David Wiesner: Flotsam; Sector 7; not quite wordless June 29, 1999; Totally wacky Three Pigs (I Love fractured/distressed/distorted/retold fairy tales)

Sara Varon: Robot Dreams; Chicken and Cat

Gregory Rogers: the Boy, The Bear, The Baron and the Bard; Midsummer Knight

Guy Billout: Somethings Not Quite Right (Not really a story, but...)

Christian Slade: Korgi

Barbara Lehman: Rainstorm, The Red Book, Museum Trip, Train Stop

Regis Faller: The Polo Books

Gabrielle Vincent: A day, A Dog

Pat Schories's Jack series, especially Jack and the Night Visitors

Ralph Cosentino: The marvelous Misadventures of Fun Boy

Glaser & Weitzman: You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum; National Gallery; Boston MFA

When we begin to talk in library about how to pick books, what clues might help us find ones we like, pictures are of tremendous importance to the very beginners but even to the more accomplished readers as well. I've taken 4th grade classes on "book walks" through wordless books as we weave the story together and it's great fun.

Some of Chris Van Allsburg's books are good for this, too, ellipitical enough to allow blanks to be filled in, although some are so preachy that I don't use them.

And I love The Arrival, it's so mysterious, so specific and so universal all at once, as well as ravishingly illustrated.

It's always great to keep older children in the loop of illustrated books, they are so rich and I find when high schoolers come back to visit me in the library, they gravitate right back to the picture books they read as children; they re-discover the wonder and charm, part nostalgia, part a new and maybe deeper understanding and part just the visceral attraction of a well-wrought work of art.

A Kindle will never evoke this; a beloved book is totemic, a comfort item, a work of art, an artifact, a religious object. (Why I am a librarian.)