Tales from Outer Suburbia
Written & Illustrated by Shaun Tan
From the bestselling author of The Arrival
You thought you knew suburbia.
Then you meet an exchange student from another world, discover a secret room that lets you escape to a place of perfect beauty, find a neighborhood where brightly painted missiles decorate every yard, and wait for a blind reindeer who demands a very special offering. . . . These are the odd, magical details of everyday suburban life that might forever go unnoticed, were they not finally brought to light by Shaun Tan, author and illustrator of award-winning New York Times bestseller The Arrival.
"The term 'suburbia' may conjure visions of vast and generic sameness, but in his hypnotic collection of 15 short stories and meditations, Tan does for the sprawling landscape what he did for the metropolis in The Arrival. Here, the emotional can be manifest physically (in “No Other Country,” a down-on-its-luck family finds literal refuge in a magic “inner courtyard” in their attic) and the familiar is twisted unsettlingly (a reindeer appears annually in “The Nameless Holiday” to take away objects “so loved that their loss will be felt like the snapping of a cord to the heart”). Tan's mixed-media art draws readers into the strange settings, à la The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. In “Alert but Not Armed,” a double-page spread heightens the ludicrousness of a nation in which every house has a government missile in the yard; they tower over the neighborhood, painted in cheery pastels and used as birdhouses (“If there are families in faraway countries with their own backyard missiles, armed and pointed back at us, we would hope that they too have found a much better use for them,” the story ends). Ideas and imagery both beautiful and disturbing will linger." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"After teaching the graphic format a thing or two about its own potential for elegance with The Arrival (2007), Tan follows up with this array of 15 extraordinary illustrated tales. But here is an achievement in diametric opposition with his silent masterpiece, as Tan combines spare words and weirdly dazzling images—in styles ranging from painting to doodles to collage—to create a unity which holds complexities of emotion seldom found in even the most mature works. The story of a water buffalo who sits in a vacant lot mysteriously pointing children "in the right direction" is whimsical but also ominous. The centerpiece, "Grandpa's Story," recalling a ceremonial marriage journey and the unnameable perils faced therein, captures a tone of aching melancholy and longing, but also, ultimately, a sense of deep, deep happiness. And the eerie "Stick Figures" is both a poignant and rather disturbing narrative that plays out in the washed-out daylight of suburban streets where curious, tortured creatures wait at the ends of pathways and behind bus stops. The thoughtful and engaged reader will take from these stories an experience as deep and profound as with anything he has ever read." -- Booklist, starred review
“Nameless, ageless, genderless first-person narrators bring readers into offbeat yet recognizable places in this sparkling, mind-bending collection from the creator of The Arrival (2007). In “Our Expedition,” siblings set out to see if anything exists beyond the end of their father’s road map. Dysfunctional parents and the child they ignore are brought together when a dugong appears in their front lawn in “Undertow.” With these and other short stories, Tan brings magic to places where magic rarely happens in books. These are fairy tales for modern times, in which there is valor, love and wisdom—without dragons and castles. The accompanying illustrations vary widely in style, medium and palette, reflecting both the events and the mood of each story, while hewing to a unifying sense of the surreal. In some stories, Tan has replaced the sparse, atmospheric text entirely with pictures, leaving the reader to absorb the stunning visual impact of his imagined universe. Several poems—and a short story—told via collage are included. Graphic-novel and text enthusiasts alike will be drawn to this breathtaking combination of words and images.” -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"For those who loved Tan’s surreal and evocative The Arrival (Scholastic, 2007), the Australian author follows up with a brilliant collection of illustrated vignettes. Fifteen short texts, each accompanied by Tan’s signature black-and-white and full-color artwork, take the mundane world and transform it into a place of magical wonders. In the opening tale, a water buffalo sits in an abandoned suburban lot, offering silent but wise direction to those youngsters who are patient enough to follow his guidance. In “Eric,” the title character (a tiny, leaflike creature) visits a family as a foreign exchange student and fascinates them with his sense of wonder. His parting gift to the family is sure to warm even the coldest heart. Other stories describe the fate of unread poetry, the presence of silent stick figures who roam the suburbs, or an expedition to the edge of a map. In spirit, these stories are something akin to the wit and wisdom of Shel Silverstein. The surrealist art of Rene Magritte also comes to mind, but perhaps Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Houghton, 1984) comes closest as a comparable work. While somewhat hard to place due to the unusual nature of the piece, this book is a small treasure, or, rather, a collection of treasures." -- School Library Journal, starred review
“Strip away the banalities at the center of contemporary suburban life and you’ll find wonder at its edges—that would seem to be the common theme that connects these richly illustrated short stories and vignettes by Australian author/illustrator Tan. Over a dozen stories of slight to extreme weirdness include “Eric,” about a very foreign foreign-exchange student; “Undertow,” which describes a neighborhood’s reaction to the sudden and surprising appearance of a dugong (kin to the American manatee) in a front yard; “Our Expedition,” about a pair of brothers who explore the terrain where the map ends. Each tale sets in motion a mystery that points to the philosophical questions that underlie quotidian experience: Is the map the territory? What happens to the things we lose, break, or just let go of? What do outsiders see that we miss? How does love grow? What happens to our potential when we stop asking questions? Whence justice for those who are loyal, but weak and disempowered? What is the true nature of sacrifice? What is worth danger and risk? What have we forgotten? Tan finds remarkable ways to get at these big questions, creating stories that are accessible and sometimes funny but that require active reading and that preclude tidy, concise reductions to a single meaning or theme; the use of first-person narration, often combined with a second-person address, pulls readers into these strangely unstrange worlds. The illustration styles vary by story to echo and enhance the emotional content and set the tone as well as to carry the narrative on occasion: there’s painted suburban noir and softly textured monochrome, fake newspaper stories and scrapbook-style narratives (creative layout extends to front and back matter, which depict the book as a parcel and library book). As in Tan’s The Arrival (BCCB 1/08), the craftsmanship is impeccable; here the combination of words and visuals creates a stunning overall effect, inviting lingering and many return visits.” -- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
“[T]he real story here is the pictures. Some display the somber polish of the Arrival vignettes, others are full-color, full-page fantasies; each one has more than enough power to seduce the browser into looking closely into its mysteries.” -- Horn Book
“Tales from Outer Suburbia is not quite like anything else, and that's perhaps the best thing of all about it, opening up reading as a sort of strong, wild and individual activity.” -- Chicago Tribune
“Tan’s mixed-media art, with its surreal landscapes, rescued turtles, and decorated missiles, both illuminates the text and highlights the strange beauty of the ordinary.” -- Washington Post
“At times touching, at times absurd, this book of stunning illustrations explores surreal suburban landscapes.” -- San Francisco Chronicle
“You almost can’t stop yourself from saying ‘Wow.’ Or at least I couldn’t. . . . [Tan] knows just how to drop the extraordinary into the ordinary, creating his own mystical, serendipitous universe. . . . Each story is an exercise in narrative concision – the characters are vivid and original, the plots blend logic and whimsy, and the endings always pay off, if never quite the way you expect. . . . Tan’s work overflows with human warmth and childlike wonder. But it also makes a perfect adult bedtime story, a little something to shake loose your imagination from the moors of reality right before your own dreams kick in.” -- New York Times Book Review
“Dreamlike illustrated stories about the suburbs as you’ve never known them.” -- People Magazine
Spring 2009 Kid's Indie Next List
Best Artist, World Fantasy Awards 2009
CBCA Book of the Year, 2009
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books, 2009
BCCB Blue Ribbon Book 2009
Washington Post Best Kids' Books of the Year
Booklist Editors’ Choices for 2009
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010
An ALA Notable Book for Children, 2010
USBBY Oustanding International Book, 2010
LA Times Book Prize, Finalist
SLJ INTERVIEW WITH SHAUN TAN
While visiting New York in May 2009, Shaun Tan was interviewed by School Library Journal about his latest book, Tales from Outer Suburbia. Click here to read the full interview at slj.com.
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Price: $19.99 US
Trim Size: 7¼" x 9½"
Page Count: 96
Foreign Rights: Passion Pictures Pty. Ltd.
Translation Rights: Passion Pictures Pty. Ltd.
Rights Available? yes
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