Great Illustrated Books

Tales From Outer Suburbia

By Shaun Tan

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009
Pages : 96
Suggested Ages: 10 and Up
ISBN: 9780545055871

Tired of living in suburbia or wherever you are? Why not try an alternate reality with the bizarre stories, poems, and musings, accompanied by even more surreal drawings, doodlings, and full-color paintings from the strange brain of Shaun Tan. (Tan is the innovative Australian artist who brought us to another world in his award-winning wordless graphic novel, The Arrival.) Check out the unconventional table of contents, with each chapter represented by a postage stamp. Starting with "The Water Buffalo," an enigmatic description by an unnamed female narrator recalling the big buffalo that lived in the vacant lot at the end of the street and pointed with his hoof whenever anyone stopped for advice, the stories get odder and odder, but in a good contemplative way. What to make of Eric, the foreign exchange student who comes to live with the narrator and his family and sleeps in the pantry? If you just read the text aloud, it's a bit offbeat, but then show the illustrations of Carl, a tiny black leaf-like creature. Strange. The 15 stories appear to take place on Earth, but they're set in some weird neighborhood not even on the map, where a stranger clad in wet, barnacle-crusted diving gear plods down the street; a dugong appears on a family's front lawn; there's a tree-filled inner courtyard, accessible through a hole in a house's attic floor, where it's winter in summer and vice versa; and silent stick figures wander the sidewalks. What does it all mean?

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Anderson, M. T. Whales on Stilts. Harcourt, 2005.

Barnett, Mac. Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem. Disney/Hyperion, 2009.

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander. Scholastic, 2003.

Cowan, Catherine. My Life with the Wave. Lothrop, 1997.

Rex, Adam. The True Meaning of Smekday. Hyperion, 2007.

Tan, Shaun. The Arrival. Scholastic, 2007.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Jumanji. Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

Van Allsburg, Chris. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Zathura: A Space Adventure. Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Wiesner, David. Flotsam. Clarion, 2006.

Wiesner, David. Free Fall. Lothrop, 1988.

Wiesner, David. June 29, 1999. Clarion, 1992.

Wiesner, David. Sector 7. Clarion, 1999.

Wiesner, David. The Three Pigs. Clarion, 2001.

Critics have said

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

The thoughtful and engaged reader will take from these stories an experience as deep and profound as with anything he or she has ever read.