Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic 2007
I have this feeling everyone is going to fall all over this book (if they haven't already) for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Tan put four years into researching and preparing this book and every minute of every day of those four years is visible on the page. In his wordless tale of the immigrant experience you get the full feeling of the stranger in an extremely strange land, where daily life requires complicated negotiations, huge adjustments, and calls to question what it means exactly to understand the cultural "other."
It's a tale of a father going abroad on his own to negotiate a new life for himself and his family, to settle in and save up enough to bring his wife and daughter to the new land of opportunity. Along the way the main character meets up with several others who have their own tales and experiences to share. It's a city of strangers, of immigrants, this new and unusual world, and all the "back homes" are shown in a variety of metaphors for all the reasons one would seek shelter in a new land. Betrayed by their homelands, stories are told of dark, mammoth tentacles flailing about the edges of the old worlds, the giants that vacuum up citizens in cleansing raids, the militaristic fascism that captures the hearts and minds of young men and exact payments in the form of life and limb. The Arrival then is nothing short of a fantastical look back at the history of the American 20th century... or a forward-looking landscape into a world we have yet to envision for ourselves.
Like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this book is neither fish nor fowl, neither a picture book nor a graphic novel, though it more closely resembles the latter. In testimonial Art Spiegelman refers to this as "a novel told in graphics (not cartoons), a wordless story that uses the language of silent cinema." And like those early silent movies -- often created by immigrants and for the entertainment of immigrants -- the universal language is that of humanity, of people dealing with one another, sometimes harshly and sometimes humorously but always bound by the spirit of the struggle and survival that binds them together.
I said it a while back and I'll say it again: the graphic novel in children's literature needs to be recognized as a separate beast from either traditional fiction or picture books, and they require their own awards. I'm not necessarily insisting this book deserves any of the ALA awards but it is inane that a book like this could be considered along side picture books or traditional narrative fiction; Worse, it would be criminal not to consider this book worthy of those awards. The problem isn't going to go away any time soon and the longer it goes unaddressed the more problematic the situation will become.