Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

From the moment I opened the book, I knew this was going to be an unusual experience. The end papers are filled with a strange and interesting mish-mash of doodles, we next get a painting of a woman rowing a boat down a street with a cloud raining on her flower-pots, and then we get to the table of contents, which plainly put, is spectacular. Tan has designed it to look like an envelope, with the publisher in the ‘from’ area and his dedication in the ‘to’ area and the chapters each represented as a separate stamp – the page number is shown as the stamp cost. It is lovely and I love the symbolism that this book (and each individual chapter) will take you somewhere new.

The stories range in length from a page to several, from feeling like an anecdote to feeling like a fairytale, from having the art being an integral part of the storytelling to having a text that could stand independently from the art.

After having read this book twice I am still not sure what to make of all of it – other than I know I loved it and I know it was something extremely special. What exactly do these stories mean (I loved the Horn Book review where the reviewer said, “Tan follows his wordless epic The Arrival with a collection of -- stories? fables? dreams?”) because that is exactly what the reader is asking during the experience – what exactly is this???

I can only say that after two reads I sort of felt like Tan took the sterile and conformist setting of suburbia (little boxes made of ticky tacky anyone?) and infused it with a mythology, a history, a fairytale feeling of magic that one has in childhood regardless of where they are raised.

I have several favorite stories. I loved the one of Eric a foreign exchange student that is foreign in more ways that one…as in he’s an alien being. I enjoyed how the pictures were integral to the story – Eric, being a visitor, naturally has many questions about the function of things – but Tan chooses to draw these questions instead of verbalize them. It is very effective. I enjoyed Distant Rain, a story in which the format used (collage) captures the essence of the story. It is a story that describes how random scraps of words from discarded poems growing into a giant ball until it bursts forth upon the town spewing poetry on everything. I was seriously freaked out by Stick Figures, which I found eerie, weird, and downright disturbing.

If you would like to know more background on each story, I strongly suggest you visit Shaun Tan’s own website. There he goes over each story and explains his art techniques and also give a bit of an explanation of each story, how it originated, what may have influenced him, and sometimes when we’re lucky a bit of what the story is actually about.

I really want to see this title on the real Printz list.

Book Source: Library Copy

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