Happy New Year! Happy 2008! May you find the books and the stories this year that will wend their way into your hearts and change you forever.
My artist friend, Molly, who works with me on the literacy comic, Wireman, was given Shaun Tan’s wordless picture book/graphic novel, The Arrival (Scholastic, $19.95), by her husband for Christmas. “It’s a beautiful book,” she said, “but it’s not going to teach anybody to read.” My first response was au contraire, Molly. I mean, it’s not going to literally teach a child to read…that is correct. But it will interest children in reading. And it will also do a bang-up job of teaching narrative strategies, prediction, and comprehension.
We’re all pre-readers as we enter Tan’s world. For reasons we cannot know, a man is separated from his family and must undertake a difficult journey to another country. Adult readers will overlay the European immigrant story on this one as the traveler makes his way by ship across an ocean. He has to undergo tests in a quasi-Ellis Island, and then make his way in this new world where he doesn’t understand the culture or the language. It makes no sense to us, either! As we puzzle over the pictures, strange and fantastical elements are introduced. The man is befriended by a creature that is unknown to us. He must communicate his need for a place to sleep and food to eat. He undergoes some horrifying experiences. This is a major work, one that requires several readings, and I’m still pondering it. What a great book for older low skill-level readers who are often very good at decoding picture narratives.
You can see how limited our designations for children’s books are when you see that Scholastic has classified it as appropriate for ages 3-5. This not for pre-schoolers, folks. This is for older kids and adults.