“The Arrival” shows, not tells!


My featured book this month is the most sophisticated picture book I’ve ever seen in my life. (And given that I’m a huge fan of Graeme Base‘s works, such as Animalia and The Waterhole, that’s saying something!)

I’m talking about The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which has to be the most perfect example of that well-known writer’s bug-bear “show, don’t tell”. (And for those of you who don’t know the phrase, what I mean by “show, don’t tell” is crafting your words so that your reader is shown what you want them to see, not just telling them what you want to see. For example, “I hate it when you baby me!” she said, angrily. Show the reader the character is angry by her actions and reactions e.g. clenched fists, tightness of jaw and eyes, jerky movements as she tries to rein in her temper and not to lash out at him etc. etc.)

This little gem is all show. There’s not a single word in the entire story, but Mr. Tan’s exquisitely detailed pencil drawings tell a richly detailed and simply enchanting tale…if only I could paint such evocative pictures with my words!

Here’s the blurb from Shaun Tan’s website:

The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time.

A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment.

He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.”

From the very first set of drawings on the very first page, I was enthralled by Mr Tan’s skill and artistry. And I couldn’t wait to show my kids!

Now my son is not a fan of fiction. He’s into non-fiction and he reads computer programming manuals for fun–he’s only 11! And today he was off school with a bad cold and feeling pretty darned grumpy and at odds with the world. But after I showed him a few of my favorite drawings from this book, it didn’t take very long for the smiles to return.

Highly recommended for adults and children alike! (For younger ones, you might wish to skim over some of the darker images, but there’s still plenty of delight with pages of whimsical creatures and beautiful imagery.)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
ISBN: 978 0 7344 0694 1
A Lothian Book, published in Australia and New Zealand by Hachette Livre Australia Pty Ltd

Here’s my reading list for May:

  • Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby (Read my interview with Amanda)
  • The Gap Into Ruin; This Day All Gods Die by Stephen Donaldson
  • The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
  • Stardoc by S.L. Viehl
  • Frostbite by Richelle Mead
  • Bedded by Arrangement by Natalie Anderson
  • Mind Games by Christine Feehan
  • Just In Case by Meg Rosoff
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione



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12 Responses to ““The Arrival” shows, not tells!”

  1. Suzan Dickinson says:

    Thanks for sharing The Arrival. Will order it for when I return from current assignment here in Korea. Also liked your reading list–will be looking some of those up.
    Happy writing to you.

    • Maree says:

      Hi Suzan,

      What genres do you like to read? I have pretty wide taste in fiction so I’d be more than happy to share some of my favorites.

      As for The Arrival, I’ll post details of ISBN etc in the original post to help you track it down.


  2. Anne Kane says:

    Fascinating book, I’d never heard of it. I’m going to have to get me a copy.

    • Maree says:

      Hi Anne,

      The Arrival has undergone 3 reprints, the lastest in 2008. It’s a Lothian Book published in Australia and New Zealand by Hachette Livre, Australia Pty Ltd http://www.hachette.com.au

      ISBN: 978 0 7344 0694 1

      I hope you can track a copy down – it’s gorgeous!

      • Anne Kane says:

        I can’t find it on Amazon or B&N, but I’ll take the ISBN to my local bookstore tomorrow. They’re really good at tracking things down for me.I’m in Canada,so sometimes it’s tough to get certain titles.

        Thanks for the info.

  3. Louise D says:

    Looks very cool – will look out for it.

    Don’t know if anyone has suggested this to you before… if your son enjoyed ‘The Arrival’ but isn’t usually into fiction maybe you could try comics. They’re not ‘just kiddie stuff’ some have great and detailed stories and artwork (you’ll need to check what he gets though because some comics are the opposite of ‘kiddie’). Anyway, that’s only if you’re interested in encouraging him to read fiction :) Most boys prefer non-fiction so you may be happy leaving things as they are – reading is reading :)

    • Maree says:

      My husband tried to get him interested in Asterix and Rin Tin Tin but no dice. He did love “Holes” though, which I got for him after he missed hearing his teacher read the last chapter during class. Great movie version, too!

      Actually, my daughter got him interested in a bit of manga, specifically, the Vampire Knight series. But as you say, with boys, any reading at all is good reading!

      • Louise D says:

        I was thinking Manga, Judge Dredd, or X-Men (that kind of thing), sadly Astrix and Tin Tin are a bit dated for most kids today.

      • Judge Dredd and X-Men….now why didn’t I think of them. Duh! Thanks for the ideas, Louise *makes mental note to check them out next time I order a bunch of books online*

  4. what a wonderful book Maree. Love your website by the way. So informative – just like popping back to have a look at it every week. Congratulations on your achievement here and in your writing!

    • Maree says:

      Yes, it is a gorgeous book! My lovely mum-in-law bought it in Australia and thought of us. So very glad she did.

      And…. Thanks for the wonderful feedback, Pam, and for leaving a comment for me to enjoy! I must confess, I love, love, LOVE getting comments. Sure, I can check the stats and see how many visitors the site has had on any one day, but there’s something special about that personal touch. So thank you! And so very glad you like my website :-)

  5. Brenda ND says:

    I see why you like this book. You’ve inspired me to check it out. Thanks.