Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Children’s Book Review, Cicada

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Cicada is a picture book for older kids, written and illustrated by Shaun Tan, published by Lothian (Hachette in Australia) (2018.) RRP: $Au 26.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia.

From the publisher:

Cicada works in an office, dutifully toiling day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his coworkers. But one day, cicada goes to the roof of the building, and something truly extraordinary happens ...

A story for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked, from Australia's most acclaimed picture book creator.

We get an instant idea of someone not fluent in English from Cicada’s first words about himself:

Cicada work in tall building.
Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.

In fact Cicada is an insect, yet the other characters in the beginning of the book are human. And not admirable for their humanity. In fact, human resources explains Cicada’s lack of promotion by stating that he is not human, so has no need of human resources. As the story unfolds, we start to think of others we have known or heard of who have been turned away from places, bullied or treated as lesser. Kids will no doubt understand loneliness and perhaps what it is to feel ostracised.

I hope they’ll also be able to see where Tan visually reinforces many of the feelings and ideas that surface in the book. The illustrations are perfect for the story. There is a drabness about the sombre greys with Cicada’s green head the only spark of life. The end papers add another part to the book, reinforcing the dismal view of bureaucratic office work, showing the contrast between humankind and wild, glorious nature.

I think this would be an excellent picture book to use with children 10+. There is so much to discuss here with kids. Even more with high school students! I couldn’t help thinking of Kafka’s Metamorphosis where Gregor wakes up transformed into an insect. Gregor is treated as something disgusting and Cicada is bullied by co-workers and discriminated against because of his “difference”. When Cicada retires he climbs to the top of the building for a purpose we can only fear. But then… No spoilers, just know that there is a joyous and positive ending. There are also outstanding Teacher Resources available at Hachette’s website.

Get more of an idea via the Cicada Trailer below.

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