‘Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
No sick day. No mistake.’
Meet Cicada. He is a quiet, conscientious insect who has toiled away in a dreary office for many thankless years. His working day is so bleak, can there be any hope for his future? A new book by Shaun Tan is always a cause for celebration. An acclaimed author-illustrator, he has redefined the picture book. Here, with Cicada, he illuminates the world of the unappreciated, bullied and ignored.
Cicada gazes out from the page meekly, his drab suit blending into the illustrator’s expansive palette of greys. There is no colour in Cicada’s life. In rhythmic speech, echoing the call of the real-life insect, he relates the events of his days.
‘Human never finish work. Cicada always stay late.
Finish work. Nobody thanks Cicada.’
Shockingly he is bullied, both verbally and physically. No one comes to his aid, and ever the stoic, Cicada toils on. Until the day of his retirement, when life as he knows it changes forever.
Shaun Tan’s award-winning work consistently challenges the picture book norm. Although you will find his books in the children’s section of a bookshop, they really transcend classification, and that is his intention.
In Cicada, the text is minimalist, every sentence carefully weighted. Children aged 7+ will certainly understand that it is about those people in our lives who remain ignored and overlooked, and the themes of worker exploitation, bullying, and human rights are ripe for a challenging discussion with older kids.
This brilliantly illustrated dystopian tale also provides the setting for great transformation. In folklore and tradition, the cicada represents rebirth and immortality. In reality, their life cycle is simply remarkable. Maybe our little cicada’s day will come.
Discover also Shaun Tan’s brilliant backlist; including The Arrival, a story of displaced people, and my personal favourite, The Red Tree, an exploration of our heart’s dark moments.
Cicada by Shaun Tan is published by Hodder Children’s Books, 32 pages.