In terms of format, Tales from Outer Suburbia is the complete opposite of The Arrival (the first Shaun Tan book I read). Where The Arrival is wordless and told exclusively through a series of gray, black, and white illustrations, Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of flash fiction stories enhanced with colorful pictures. Both books are excellent.
I enjoyed the somber immigrant and refugee stories told in The Arrival and the whimsical stories told in Tales. It’s a nice demonstration of Shaun’s talent as an illustrator and storyteller, as he takes you from the serious world of The Arrival to the quirky world of Tales from Outer Suburbia. Tales is a little Twilight Zone, a little Outer Limits, and a lot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories.
Though opposite, both books succeed in conveying the loss and excitement of moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Just like his first book, Tales explores issues of immigration (albeit more subtly). That said, it is not so subtle in his story, “No Other Country.” This story begins with a list of shortcomings a family must cope with adjusting to their new home. In “Stick Figures”, the story is flipped and it is the natives who must adapt to the newcomers. And in “Eric”, a host family tries to understand the actions of the exchange student they have taken in.
My favorite story in the book is “Grandpa’s Story”. In it a grandfather recounts his courtship of his wife to his grandchildren. “Our Expedition” is also a favorite story of mine. It tells the story of two brothers who go on an expedition to prove/disprove the accuracy of a map. I like these stories most because of their quirky twist endings.