Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Students Read and Review Shaun Tan’s The Arrival


Reviewed by Owen Bouchard, Tyler Garry, Alia Higgins and Julia Semmel
Joseph A. DePaolo Middle School, Southington, CT


A number of people have never been to another country. They don’t know what it is like to be an immigrant; however, if they read Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, the readers would have a better understanding of the troubles that people go through. The immigrant protagonist in the story leaves his family behind to start a new life. This story helps the reader relate to the sorrow, longing, and unfamiliarity that many immigrants experience.

Tan’s abstract art conveys a difference between old and new. The fanciful and bright details in the artist’s depiction of a new, more advanced country is relatable for any reader who has experienced awe of their surroundings. There is plenty more to this story than simply the journey and acclimation of the character, such as: the emotions of his departure, the loss of his family, and the wonders of a new world. Further, the story is all told through black and white pictures.

Tan’s story starts with a simple family: a husband, wife, and young girl in a gloomy and melancholy environment. They are seen packing to leave. Whilst they walk down the street, reptilian spines snake their way in between uniform rows of drab, dreary houses. Later, the husband gets on a train after a seemingly painful farewell.

The protagonist then travels across the sea to a new life. He is constantly discovering and learning new information. Things that are quite normal to former inhabitants are full of magic and wonder to him. The protagonist befriends a variety of creatures (monsters, beasts and fairy tale animals); thus, the author symbolizes how wild and new creatures may seem in a different country.

The Arrival is brimming with fantastic scenery and settings to remind readers that there is always light and beauty in the world. For example, when the father enters this amazing new city, he sees giant statues, castles, towers and even a towering dove.

Although the protagonist is open to new discoveries and ways of life, he endures much sorrow as well. The main character’s wife and daughter pack a picture of their family in his suitcase and walk him to the train station. This shows the reader, without any words, that the main character misses those who care and love for him.

The protagonist is shown hospitality by the family that took him in and provided him shelter. The son of the main character’s adoptive family reminds him of his own daughter because he appreciated the acts of kindness shown to him and he introduced the character to new wonders. All the characters are fascinating, but the reader truly bonds with the protagonist throughout the pages of this graphic novel.

The story’s theme is about helping others even if they are different or hard to understand.  According to the pictures, the immigrant in the beginning was feeling left out. Then other immigrants and citizens who had been there longer helped him and started to teach and show him parts of this new land. The entire immigrant family learns to help others even if they are unusual or diverse.

Similar to the beginning of The Arrival, immigrants in today’s world are not always treated respectfully. It would be very difficult for an immigrant to get around if they are unable to speak the language or understand how the inhabitants live. This is what happened to the protagonist in the beginning until other immigrants helped him out. They provided him shelter and began to teach him the customs of the natives. With respect from the immigrants, the protagonist was able to learn the customs and show his daughter as well. We don’t know where this book took place, but nevertheless it could happen anywhere people discriminate against outsiders. Tan urges today’s citizens to provide immigrants with this same courtesy that The Arrival’s supporting characters provide throughout the story.

Leaving one’s country to start a new life can be very daunting. If you want to find out more about the immigrant experience, read Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

This book review appears courtesy of teachers Kerri Fenton and Debbie Moreau, winners of our 2014-2015 Community Grants, and their students.  Find out more information on the American Immigration Council’s 2015-2016 bi-annual community grants including our online application here.

If there’s an immigration-themed book you’d like to review for us, or if you have a book review suggestion, please let us know at teacher@immcouncil.org or tweet us @ThnkImmigration.

Related Resources:
·       How Digital Storytelling about Immigration Creates Empathetic Moments – Read how writing digital stories on immigration can create a classroom culture of listening, respect and empathy.

·       8 Tips for Teaching How to Write a Digital Story on ImmigrationTips to help teachers anticipate and meet some of the challenges in implementing a digital storytelling project as well as to showcase its valuable rewards.

·       Crossing Borders with Digital Storytelling In this Common-Core aligned immigration lesson plan, teachers are guided step-by-step through a process for launching a digital storytelling project on immigration in their own classrooms.  Recommended writing prompts, easy to use digital platforms, as well as resources and collaborative planning tools are shared and explained.

·       Make Visual Narratives with Shaun Tan's The Arrival A website dedicated to teacher and student resources on making visual narratives showcasing discussion questions on The Arrival.