Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan, McClelland and Stewart, 2008, 96 pp, $19.99, Fantasy, ISBN: 0771084021
A talking water buffalo. An exchange student who lived in the pantry. A hidden inner courtyard/parallel universe. The geographic end of the Earth.
All of these things can be found in Shaun Tan's masterfully illustrated Tales From Outer Suburbia. When I first laid eyes on this collection of short stories I thought, "That can't be right. This is a picture book! What is it doing with all of the other YA books?" But as soon as I started reading, I understood my error. The actual tales are each a brief glimpse of the way life could be, if only we could live in Tan's imagination. Although I loved the opening story of the oracle-like water buffalo and the story of two boys who set out on an expedition to find the actual geographic location of the edge of a map, my favorite was "Grandpa's Story." In this tale, the narrator's grandpa tells of the quest that he and his true love had to complete before they could be married.
"This was the Scavenger Hunt, always the most troublesome and feared part of any wedding. Well, we expected to be back home and dressed for the well-rehearsed vows in no time at all - we were young and full of confidence, always in a hurry too. Of course, it was not too long before we ran into trouble, a whole lot of trouble..."
"...there was a long and terrible silence, of a kind we had never known before. We refused to even look at each other. It was like all the stones in the desert went down our throats and into our hearts."
However, the Scavenger Hunt was also the very thing that brought them back together, more united and more in love than ever before.
Are you beginning to see why I love these stories so much? I think they get even better with time. Here is a sampling of other illustrations from this book:
Although people of all ages will surely gobble up each bizarrely fabulous illustration, I imagine that it will take a more mature reader - at least at the middle school level - to understand the nuances of each unique story. On the other hand, don't children often understand the simple truths that many "grown-ups" fail to see? I think in this case, I will simply choose to not offer an age recommendation. Tales From Outer Suburbia is for everyone.
If you, like me, have gotten a little obsessed with Shaun Tan's unique method of story telling, I will point you toward his other picture books. In truth, I have not read any of them yet, but The Arrival is at the top of my list!