The Arrival – Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is one of Australia’s best known and awarded illustrator. In his own words his picture books are “best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.”

His latest book The Arrival deals with people who choose to leave the home they know and love, in search of a better place for their family. It is “is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.” (

The notion of belonging has played a part in his own life, as growing up in Western Australia as  half’-Chinese, along with his awareness of the displacement of aboriginal people, led to his unclear notion of identity and a certain detachment from his roots. The book took a number of years to complete as he clarified how to express this theme of the migrant experience. Starting off life as afairly conventional picture book it eventually morphed into a series of visuals reminiscent of an old family photo album. The absence of any text allows the reader to become one with the migrant ‘hero’ and feel some of his displacement and wonder at the new world he arrives at.

Discover Shan Tan’s homepage and find out more about the man as illustrator, and now animator and film-maker.


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Filed under Best Reads, Picture Story Books, Woodleigh Library

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