The Arrival

Tan, Shaun


A.A. Levine, New York. 2006. 128 p.


I had heard good things about The Arrival, but none of them can really do the book justice, just as I cannot do it justice here.


Let me first get all my gushing over with: This is one of the most, if not the most, beautifully illustrated books I have ever seen. Tan has amazing talent, and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. His drawings are so detailed and intricate that I would swear you are looking at a photograph instead of a black and white drawing. He can capture someone’s essence in a drawing of his or her face so well that you know that person just by looking at them. Even the simplest drawing is rich with little elements that flesh out a scene like most picture books don’t. Fortunately, there are no words in this book, only illustrations so the reader gets to enjoy Tan’s incredible talent.


To my surprise, this book is found in the J section of my library, or the YA section recommended for ages 7 and up according to Amazon. I’m surprised because of the complexity of the book. Yes, it’s wordless, but really that is what forces the reader to think more. The story line is a simple one: a man leaves his home country to find a better life for himself and his family in a new land. Okay. But Tan enriches that storyline by making the man’s nationality unclear, as well as the country he arrives in. I assumed it was America, but that’s not necessarily true. There are no clear indications of where the man is—all we know is that it is a place completely foreign to him. The people are different, the food is different, the pets are bizarrely different (the man meets a creature that may be a dog or a cat, but is portrayed as a white shark-faced animal with a long tail and mouse-like ears), basically, it’s all new and scary.


Tan takes us through the man’s journey and acclimation to his new life through vivid pictures that give us more of a feeling of what’s going on rather than a concrete idea. I don’t know how much a middle school student would understand of this book since it took me 2 or 3 reads to really grasp what was going on. Sometimes I think graphic novels are just put in the juvenile section because they have pictures. There is no further thought to what’s in the book or what it’s about. This book is probably one of those situations.


I can’t explain or describe this book in any better way without taking away from the experience of reading it. It’s simply beautiful and touching.