The Arrival by Shaun Tan is the story of all immigrants. By relying solely on pencil illustrations, Shaun Tan attempts to capture the emotions and the story of not just one man leaving his family to enter a new world but the story of all immigrants entering a new life. I was not completely convinced that the immigrant story can be properly told via illustration, but The Arrival was intriguing nonetheless.
Tan’s illustrations in The Arrival are gorgeous and realistic, although as the immigrant man enters the new world, fantastic elements enter the pictures. Such fantastic elements were odd to me and confused me. I believe Tan intended to illustrate the foreignness of the new land. Tan further illustrated foreignness by never using letters: even in a sample newspaper, the characters are odd letter-like symbols, not our familiar ABCs. This was a clever technique because Tan demonstrated the confusion an immigrant might feel upon arrival in a new country where even the language is unknown.
The story of The Arrival was “tender.” The man left his wife and daughter and arrived in the new land, confused and lost. He relied on others to help him, others who had likewise arrived as immigrants a short time ago. After some time, his family is able to join him. They have become the experienced locals helping new arrivals find their way.
I enjoyed reading this, but I wonder about the role of all-illustrated books for children (grade 5-7) like The Arrival. While it is important to help our children appreciate art and learn to read and interpret art, wouldn’t it be better to encourage our children to be literate by actually reading a story of an immigrant or many immigrants? How does The Arrival help literacy?
I consider reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud to my son reading. I consider listening to an audiobook reading. I consider reading a graphic novel reading. I consider reading The Arrival reading. But which of these media actually help our children become literate, and which should we promote most?
I would suggest that while reading The Arrival might help children understand the immigrant experience, reading it won’t actually help children embrace reading. However, I’m certainly not a teacher or a literacy expert. What do you think?