I was thrilled to read on the Guardian newspaper’s webpage that author and illustrator Shaun Tan was awarded the Lindgren Prize – the world’s largest children’s literature prize. The Lindgren award, established in 2002 by the Swedish government, focuses on work with, in their words, “a profound respect for democratic values and human rights.” It’s named for Astrid Lindgren, the author of the Pippi Longstocking stories.
In its citation, the jury described Tan as a “masterly visual storyteller.” To put it mildly. Tan’s books say everything. That’s really the only way to describe them. Every time I look at The Arrival, his wordless graphic novel, I am in awe of Tan’s accomplishment. The Arrival is about immigration and fear and longing and the universal experience of being human. As Tan acknowledged in an interview with the Guardian, his books are difficult to categorize. They are sometimes viewed as children’s picture books, but he often addresses serious topics: depression, environmental destruction, politics. “None of my books are for anybody,” he said. “I don’t have any image of a child reading my book when I produce them. It’s unfortunate sometimes that they are marketed to children. It’s good that kids get them, but that can exclude adults.”
His most recent book, Tales from Outer Suburbia, is a perfect example. It’s a book of magical fables. I shared it with a group of middle school students who loved it. We began each class by reading one of the book’s very short, but often complex, stories and each one of them led to a lovely “moment” in the middle in an otherwise normal day. But, I would not hesitate to give this book to any thoughtful adult I know. The Guardian described Tales from Outer Suburbia as “the most beautiful book you’ll see all year.”
And, if that’s not enough to send you to your library or bookstore, maybe Netflix is your next stop. At this year’s Academy Awards, Tan’s animated short film “The Lost Thing” won an Oscar.