Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)

Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….

I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.

Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Graphic Novels with Girl Power


All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)


Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)

This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)

Swing it, Sunny

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)

Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)



At the Supermarket

At the Supermarket by Anne Rockwell

This updated edition of Rockwell’s picture book from 1979 offers a modern and timeless feel.  A little boy heads to the supermarket with his mother.  They buy meat, fruit and vegetables, bread and peanut butter.  In the cold dairy case, they get milk, butter, eggs and cheese.  Then there are the items in boxes and cans like coffee and napkins.  But it turns out that this is a special grocery trip and the boy and his mother select items to help them bake a birthday cake, including sprinkles and ice cream!  Returning home, they bake the cake together.

There is something special about books that focus on a specific activity.  This book is both universal and specific.  Children will enjoy seeing the similarities of what their family buys and also the differences.  Rockwell wisely lingers on the specific purchases, offering images of many of them.  Her illustrations that update this new version of the book are done in acrylic gouache.  They are simple and specific, underlining the universal appeal of the book and its subject.

Toddlers will relate quickly to this book and enjoy seeing another child heading out to the grocery store with a parent.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

Passing By

Passing By by Yona Tepper, illustrated by Gil-Ly Alon Curiel

Yael likes to watch the street outside her house from her balcony.  She can see dogs walk by, a cat hiding in the flowerbed, a car driving past and honking its horn, a man riding a bike, a tractor with a trailer filled with brush, and a bird.  Best of all, she sees her father coming! 

The book has a nice rhythm and repetition both before each thing on the street appears and after it leaves Yael’s sight.  Tepper’s prose has a quiet feel that really allows readers to feel a sense of ease and leisure that is inherent in the book.  The art depicts life in Israel which is both similar to a street in America and yet has quite a different feel.  Curiel’s art is simple and very child-friendly.  The book has a nice mix of close-up images and panoramas of the area of Yael’s home. 

Ideal for toddlers who will enjoy the repetition of the book and identifying the sounds and animals.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.