Graphic Novel

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


Tan, S. (2006). The Arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Fiction, appropriate for ages 5+


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.


The graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan depicts themes of isolation, belonging, novelty, cultural difference and the issues and challenges around the whole idea of displacement. Displacement is a different theme to immigration, though they share some of the same common features, as displacement is often thrust upon communities or families for reasons such as imminent war, tribal fighting, famine or drought.

Displaced communities often suffer greatly from homesickness for their own land – an issue not shared with those immigrants who optimistically leave in search of a better life, though sometimes even these can decide they have made a mistake. It is very often difficult to settle in a new land where culture, language, customs and climate are different to the homeland. Issues such as poverty and victimisation or racism can be challenges too – and the whole lot is very difficult for the new citizen to take on board. The idea of belonging is very important to people and everyone seems to need that feeling of security, even if it is a case of embracing a new nation gratefully and declaring it to be one’s new true home. Young people often get over these difficult issues quicker than the elderly as they are more malleable due to their youth and ability to make new young friends quickly, so absorbing the new culture.


Grade 5

ELA.RL.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

ELA.SL.1.d. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher- led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.  d. Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions.

Lesson Objective: The students will be able to present their findings of The Arrival  in a podcast and create a box of memories as if they were the man in the story.

Discussion Questions: Page 5: Based on what you see on this page, what can you tell about the setting of this scene? Who lives in this home? What do the things shown on this page tell us about the people living in this home?

Page 12: Why does the man give his daughter the bird?

Page 14: How do you think the woman and the girl feel now? What are some reasons why the whole family didn’t get on the train?

What is the point of this story? What meaning or purpose is the readersupposed to walk away with? Why are the letter, buildings, animals and languages unfamiliar to contemporary interpretations?

Lesson Activity:

  1. Before beginning, I show the children Shaun Tan’s website on The Arrival. Discuss the images there, how to “read” them, and what they had to do with our studies of immigration. Talk about the challenges of reading a book that was all images, that had no words.
  2. Place the children in groups of three to read the book and encourage them to work together to determine what is going on in the story.
  3. Give the children small booklets in which to take notes as they read.
  4. At the end of each session, come together as a class and have one member of each group present their findings in a podcast.
  5. As they present, hold up a copy of the book to support what is being said.
  6. After they finish, show them a Powerpoint placing images from the book next to archival photographs on which they were based. This will be exciting and fascinating for the students.
  7. Next they will write letters — I want them to make a box of memories for the hero of the book — full of his letters to his family, origami perhaps, whatever my students think should go in it. They may also want to write Shaun Tan. Letters seem the perfect final project for this book.


the arrival


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