MAY 1:

  • Happy birthday Bobbie Ann Mason (In Country) and Robert Bender (Lima Beans Would Be Illegal).
  • It’s the birth date of Charles G. Shaw (1892-1974), It Looked Like Spilt Milk; Louisa Shotwell (1902-1993), Magdalena; Elizabeth Marie Pope (1917-1992), The Perilous Gard; Joan Chase Bowden (1925–2010), Candy Claus.
  • It’s Mother Goose Day, to appreciate nursery rhymes of yore. Read My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose, both edited by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells.
  • It’s also School Principal’s Day. Read Report to the Principal’s Office by Jerry Spinelli, A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Harry Bliss, and Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco.

On May 1 we celebrate a relatively new holiday, Immigration Day. Except for Native Americans, the United States is a nation of immigrants; consequently, hundreds of books for children present the experience of our ancestors from different perspectives. But none enable readers to experience the emotions of an immigrant to a strange country as brilliantly as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

In this graphic novel readers follow the story, presented without words, of a lone immigrant, who leaves his wife, daughter, and home, and travels by steamship to a new land. Huddled together with other passengers, he eventually sees his destination, but everything looks bizarre. Even the pets look like they might best be avoided. The language used on buildings and signs perplexes both the immigrant and the reader. Eventually he obtains a job hanging posters, but turns them upside down until corrected. Since the reader is always viewing the scene from the immigrant’s eyes, he or she experiences this strange new land just as the man does.

With kindness from strangers and his own determination, the man makes his way through this surreal landscape and manages to piece a life together. Finally, in an emotional double-page spread, the family is reunited—they are shown as small specs in a large, overwhelming world. This entire saga has been rendered in sepia-colored drawings in panels of varying sizes. The drawings dictate the pace and emotional impact of the story: the small panels move the action forward; the single or double-paged panels cause the reader to pause.

The Arrival allows viewers to imagine visually how the world appeared to immigrant ancestors, and it unfolds history in an immediate and striking way. Some fifth through eighth grade teachers have integrated the title into immigration units; others have pulled the book into writing classes, so students can tell their own interpretation of the story. Since the entire narrative occurs in the art, there are as many versions of what is happening as there are readers. Like Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, The Arrival can be appreciated both for its artistry and for its social and political content.

If you have missed the books of Australian genius Shaun Tan, who in the last two months has won both an Oscar and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, often called the “Nobel Prize for Children’s Literature,” run, do not walk, to the nearest bookstore or library to pick up The Arrival.

Here’s a page from The Arrival:


Originally posted May 1, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Social Conscience
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Arrival


  1. suzi w. says:

    What wonderful illustrations!! And Grandfather’s Journey is one of my favorites. I’ll have to check out the other ones.

  2. Jessica says:

    Great choice! The Arrival is INCREDIBLE!

  3. Ooo, I just love Shaun Tan SOOOO much!

  4. Nancy says:

    This is an AWESOME book.

  5. Sydnee says:

    Just Perfect!

  6. Thank you for this lovely tribute to one of my very favorites in the literary world! I savor each time like today when I learn something more about this very thoughtful and caring author/illustrator. Thanks again, Anita!

  7. Kate Anne says:

    This looks amazing! I added this and a couple of his other books to my list. Another about this subject I’d recommend is “Emma’s Poem”, about the woman who wrote the poem on the Statue of Liberty. Wonderful story about the power of words, women, and the difference one person can make.

  8. joanne toft says:

    Just learned of the release of this set of books from Tan
    “Lost & Found,” a collection of three stories primarily by Tan from the Scholastic imprint Arthur A. Levine Books.
    Check it out!!

  9. Anita says:

    Joanne: Lost & Found is a fabulous book, three Tan masterpieces under one cover.

  10. Erica S. says:

    I read this book with two of my sixth grade students a few years back in order to help them make inferences and predictions. Both students were immigrants themselves, and they were so enchanted by this story. They became completely invested in the man and his family, and I had to hold the book so that they wouldn’t skip ahead to see the ending. I’ll never forget the looks on my students’ faces when we finally got to the part when the man and his family are reunited – pure joy. This book also provided ample opportunities for further thinking and connections to history (especially Ellis Island), and it will stay in my heart forever as one of my all-time favorite teaching experiences. Thanks for featuring this today, Anita. Shaun Tan is a genius.

  11. Gail Terp says:

    My fifth grade students loved this book and we had very interesting discussions about immigration and other interpretations.

  12. Anita says:

    Gail and Erica: Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m always so happy to hear that books of such artistry connect powerfully with young readers.

  13. Colleen says:

    This looks like an amazing book. I will definitely have to check it out!

  14. Kate says:

    I knew I would love this book the second that I opened it up and spent 10 minutes just looking at the endpapers. The photographs of people from around the world make this universal immigration story seem all the more real and relevant.

  15. Jamie Tan says:

    Shaun Tan is one of my favorite illustrators. I love how he can write as well as he illustrates, because the stories from Tales from Outer Suburbia are amazing, too!

  16. Meagan Maher says:

    I LOVE this book.

    Shaun Tan is my favorite picture book writer/illustrator. I own all of his books.
    The Arrival is by far his artwork manifesto – you can feel the emotions from the characters off the page –
    this book needs no words.
    A wonderful book and I highly recommend.
    The Red Tree is just as wonderful, if not more so!

  17. Ashley Maher says:

    I love this book. The message about transitioning to a new place comes across so powerfully in all his pictures, and no one does original creatures like Tan. Masterpiece!

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