Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Review by Kate Plagerarrival

When you find yourself in a new culture, where you don’t know the language, customs or ways of life, how do you make sense of it all? Many of us have never traveled alone to a new country where a different language is spoken. We find it hard to understand the immigrant experience of inquiry, confusion, frustration and wonder. The Arrival is written entirely with pictures. It places the reader, regardless of their language, on the same journey of discovery. This wordless graphic novel follows a man who immigrates to a new land to escape persecution and poverty at home. The protagonist enters a busy, strange city and works to set up a life so that he can bring his family to join him. The pictures’ somber muted tones create a sense of realism, while the images of monsters and strange creatures evoke a host of symbolic associations each reader must figure out on their own. The story speaks equally by what it reveals and by what it leaves unsaid.


The unique quality of The Arrival offers three amazing benefits for using it in the classroom. First, it allows English language learners and students with low reading skills an opportunity to engage with a text at an equal footing: they can practice their comprehension and analysis skills without being hindered by language barriers. Second, the book provides all students with a challenge: how to form meaning from abstract symbols when words do not ‘tell’ the story. This is a skill which can be easily applied to analysis of poetry and creative writing. Finally, the story immerses the reader in the experience of being an immigrant. Students are both learning about the immigrant experience while also getting a glimpse from the immigrant perspective.

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine, 2007
128 pages

Kate is a enthusiastic 5th year English teacher at an alternative high school in the Twin Cities suburbs.

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