Tales from Outer Suburbia

Tales from Outer Suburbia

3.6 11
by Shaun Tan

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Fifteen illustrated short stories, some humorous and some haunting, set in the Australian suburbs.  See more details below


Fifteen illustrated short stories, some humorous and some haunting, set in the Australian suburbs.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
These 15 illustrated stories and vignettes resist easy understanding but invite reflection…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.
—The Washington Post
Hugo Lindgren
[Tan's] work is weird, all right, but the best kind of weird—the kind that welcomes you in…For all his talents as an illustrator, Tan also writes extremely well. 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…[his] 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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

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VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
Following his wildly successful, highly acclaimed The Arrival (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2007/VOYA August 2007), Tan now offers readers fifteen short stories brilliantly composed of both words and mixed-media artwork. By turns cute and creepy, chilling and profound, these thought-provoking vignettes challenge readers to use both imagination and experiential reality to find their own meaning in these fascinating stories. Employing collage, paintings, drawings, and other art forms, Tan surrounds the words of his stories with intriguing visuals. Tales like Eric, about an otherworldly exchange student, and Stick Figures, about odd beings in a neighborhood, may be considered modern fairy tales. The Amnesia Machine and Undertow could be seen as cautionary tales about modern society while Alert But Not Alarmed is a delightful satirical riff on missile proliferation. Even the stories that at first seem fanciful, such as The Water Buffalo, also convey dark undertones either via illustration or tone. How very "outer" Tan's suburbia truly is might be reflected in the picture of the Tuesday Afternoon Reading Group, comprising a human female pictured with decidedly alien beings and their books. Wonderfully imaginative and delightfully strange, Tan's suburban mythology is sure to appeal to science fiction and fantasy fans grades seven and up. Reluctant readers might also be attracted to this book because of the interesting blend of pictures and prose. Readable as both entertainment and social commentary, this book should enjoy wide-ranging appeal as could also find a place in the school curriculum. Reviewer: Rachelle Bilz
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
This is a wonderful collection of short stories about the strangeness, disappointment, and joy of life. It is the kind of book to read with your mind open for new thoughts. In one story, a water buffalo gives advice, and those who follow it are amazed that the buffalo knew what they wanted. In another story, dogs mourn the death of a dog and take revenge on the man who killed him. Two boys hike to the end of the map and sit on the edge of the world. People find the secret inner courtyards of their houses, where they have picnics in the courtyard's summer and cool off in the courtyard's winter. A deep sea diver is reunited with a relative by two brothers, much to their surprise. A grandfather tells his grandchildren about his wedding day, and someone relates the arrival of a monstrous piece of equipment to a neighborhood park. The equipment is somehow linked to the introduction of a new flavor of ice cream. Some of the stories are a page long; some are longer. Some are written almost as collages—very intriguing stuff. The book's illustrations only add to the intrigue. Teen agers with a flair for the bizarre will enjoy this book. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal

Gr 4 Up

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.-Douglas P. Davey, Halton Hills Public Library, Ontario, Canada

Kirkus Reviews
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. (Graphic anthology. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Arrival:
“Shaun Tan’s The Arrival may be the most brilliant book of the year.” — School Library Journal, starred review

“Filled with both subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form.” — Booklist, starred review

“Few will remain unaffected by this timeless stunner.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Product Details

Sagaejeol Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 9.70(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Stick Figures

If they are standing in the middle of the street, it’s easy enough to drive around them, as you would a piece of cardboard or a dead cat. Turning your sprinklers on will discourage them from hanging around the front of your house; loud music and smoke from barbecues will also keep them away. They are not a problem, just another part of the suburban landscape, their brittle legs moving as slowly as clouds. They have always been here, since before anyone remembers, since before the bush was cleared and all the houses were built.

Adults pay them little attention. Young children sometimes dress them in old clothes and hats as if they were dolls or scarecrows, and are always scolded by parents, whose reasons are unclear. ‘Just don’t,’ they say sternly.

Some older boys take great delight in beating them with baseball bats, golf clubs, or whatever is at hand, including the victim’s own snapped-off limbs. With careful aim a good strike will send the head — a faceless clod of earth — flying high into the air. The body remains passively upright until smashed to splinters between heels and asphalt.

This can go on for hours, depending on how many the boys can find. But eventually it stops being amusing. It becomes boring, somehow enraging, the way they just stand there and take it. What are they? Why are they here? What do they want? Whack! Whack! Whack!

The only response is the sound of dead branches falling from old trees on windless evenings, and random holes appearing in front lawns, dark sockets where clods of earth have been removed during the night. And sure enough there they are again, standing by fences and driveways, in alleyways and parks, silent sentinels.

Are they here for a reason? It’s impossible to know, but if you stop and stare at them for a long time, you can imagine that they too might be searching for answers, for some kind of meaning. It’s as if they take all our questions and offer them straight back: Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want?

The Nameless holiday

The nameless holiday happens once a year, usually around late August, sometimes October. It is always anticipated by children and adults alike with mixed emotion: it’s not exactly festive, but still a celebration of sorts, the origin of which has been long forgotten.

All that is known are the familiar rituals: the laying out of one’s most prized possessions on the bedroom floor; then choosing one special object — exactly the right one — and carrying it carefully up a ladder to the roof and leaving it under the TV aerial (already decorated with small shiny things such as chocolate wrappers, old CDs, and the tops off tubs of yoghurt, licked clean and threaded with string, tied with special slip-knots).

Then there is the traditional midnight picnic in the backyard, front lawn, or any place with a good view of one’s own roof — across the street if necessary, which is why families sometimes gather by the roadside on blankets. Here are born fond memories of freshly baked gingerbread crows, hot pomegranate juice as tart as a knife and small plastic whistles, inaudible to the ears of both humans and dogs. Not to mention all that excited chatter and giggling, all that polite shushing, everyone struggling to observe the convention of silence.

Those who stay awake long enough are rewarded by a momentary sound that never fails to draw a sharp intake of breath — the delicate tapping of hoofs descending on roof tiles. It is always so startling, so hard to believe at first, like a waking dream or a rumour made solid. But sure enough, there he is, the reindeer with no name: enormous, blind as a bat, sniffing under the TV aerial with infinite animal patience. He always knows exactly which objects are so loved that their loss will be felt like the snapping of a cord to the heart, and it’s only these that he nudges tenderly until they become hooked onto his great antlers. The rest he leaves alone, leaping gracefully back up into the cool darkness.

What a remarkable, unnameable feeling it is, right at the moment of his leaping: something like sadness and regret, of suddenly wanting your gift back and held tight to your chest, knowing that you will certainly never see it again. And then there is the letting go as your muscles release, your lungs exhale, and the backwash of longing leaves behind this one image on the shore of memory: a huge reindeer on your roof, bowing down.

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Meet the Author

Shaun Tan has been illustrating young adult fiction and picture books for more than ten years. His brilliant wordless book, The Arrival, won The CBCA Picture Book of the Year, The NSW Premier’s Book of the Year, and the Community Relations Commission Award, and received a Special Mention at the 2007 Bologna Ragazzi Awards.
He lives in Australia.

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