From the visionary Shaun Tan, an inspirational story for older picture book readers and beyond
Cicada tells the story of a hardworking little cicada who is completely unappreciated for what he does. But in the end, just when you think he’s given up, he makes a transformation into something ineffably beautiful. A metaphor for growing up? A bit of inspiration for the unappreciated striver in all of us? Yes, yes, and more.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
Grades 6-9. From award-winning Tan comes another nonpareil picture book. Tan’s eponymous Cicada is a mistreated office worker in a grim office building, employed by a company truly Kafkaesque in its brutal devotion to minutiae. “Seventeen year,” says our protagonist. “No promotion. Human Resources say Cicada not human. Need no resources. Tok Tok Tok!” We see the Cicada retire quietly from its mundane, thankless job, homeless and impoverished—a pathos evenly played in Tan’s deft hand. Tan juxtaposes the heartrending despondency of the story with a new sense of wonder as we see the cicada begin anew outside of his dreary office, just as the muted tones of the man-made office building are ignited by the verdant, gleaming cicada itself. As Tan’s books often do, this seems to defy categorization—its themes, admittedly, are perhaps too mature for the standard picture-book crowd. But for older readers drawn to unusual narrative formats, this book could work wonders with its nuanced, hopeful depiction of individuality. Illustrated with graceful restraint, this book is a stirring vignette of a life lived against the grain.
Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2018)
Tan’s narratives often critique traditional office culture; this one features the inhumane treatment of the protagonist, a cicada dressed in a four-armed gray suit, complete with tie and pocket square. Oriented vertically, the insect does not reach the top of his human co-workers’ desks, thus skewing the perspective so their heads are not visible. The green data entry clerk works in a gray maze of cubicles. Despite his exceptional performance and strong work ethic, he must walk blocks to a bathroom and is physically bullied. Readers will recognize forms of marginalization throughout, i.e., the elevator buttons are too high, poverty forces residency in the office wall. Cicada language is primitive and rhythmic: “Seventeen year. No promotion. / Human resources say cicada not human. / Need no resources. / Tok Tok Tok!” The last line is a refrain following each brief description, suggesting both the sound of a clock (time passing) and the notion of cicada “talk.” Upon retiring, he ascends the long stairway to the skyscraper’s ledge. The oil paintings of shadowy, cramped spaces transition to a brightened sky; a split in Cicada’s body reveals a molten glow. An orange-red winged nymph emerges and joins a sky full of friends flying to the forest, where they have the last laugh. No Kafkaesque conclusion here; metamorphosis brings liberation and joy. Simultaneously sobering and uplifting, it will lead thoughtful readers to contemplate othering in their own lives. (Picture book. 12-adult)
About the Author
Shaun Tan (born 1974) is the illustrator and author of award-winning children’s books. After freelancing for some years from a studio at Mt. Lawley, Tan relocated to Melbourne, Victoria in 2007. Tan was the Illustrator in Residence at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Language Literacy and Arts Education for two weeks through an annual Fellowship offered by the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust. 2009 World Fantasy Award for Best Artist.
2011 he won his first Oscar in the Category Best Short Animated Film for his work The Lost Thing.
His website is www.shauntan.net
Cicada Teacher Resources
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Cicada Publisher Page