Cicada by Shaun Tan

In Cicada, award-winning artist and author Shaun Tan has produced another stunning masterpiece of minimalist social commentary that will resonate with adults and children alike.

The eponymous Cicada is an office worker in a cubicle in a grey, featureless building. For 17 years he slaves away, living onsite, bullied by co-workers and given no recognition. Upon retirement he climbs Escher-like stairs to the roof of the building. What happens then is simply extraordinary.

Tan’s rich oil paintings depict the bleak office environment in shades of grey. Cicada’s green head is the only colour on many pages. The art is deceptively simple, allowing the viewer to project their own imaginings onto the page. The endpapers are divine.

The language of Cicada is also simple, yet expressive. The story comments on the absurdity of corporate life, reflects on the life cycle of the cicada (up to 17 years underground) and suggests the possibility of transformation. The text is written in the simple rhythmic voice of Cicada, with an economy of words and gestures, always ending with ‘Tok, Tok, Tok!’

This magnificent picture book is the work of a master storyteller at the top of his game, pared back to only the minimum required to tell his story, leaving us to question and imagine further. It’s suitable for ages 4+. Bravo Shaun Tan!

Angela Crocombe is the shop mananger at Readings Kids.

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Shaun Tan

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