Tales from Outer Suburbia

Tales from Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan


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An exchange student who's really an alien, a secret room that becomes the perfect place for a quick escape, a typical tale of grandfatherly exaggeration that is actually even more bizarre than he says... These are the odd details of everyday life that grow and take on an incredible life of their own in tales and illustrations that Shaun Tan's many fans will love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780545055871
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2009
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 245,477
Product dimensions: 7.20(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 1040L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Shaun Tan is the New York Times bestselling author of The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia, Tales from the Inner City, Rules of Summer, and The Singing Bones. He received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2011 and won an Academy Award for the adaptation of his picture book The Lost Thing (from Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan). Shaun lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Read an Excerpt

Stick Figures

If they are standing in the middle of the street, it’s easy enough to drive around them, as you would a piece of cardboard or a dead cat. Turning your sprinklers on will discourage them from hanging around the front of your house; loud music and smoke from barbecues will also keep them away. They are not a problem, just another part of the suburban landscape, their brittle legs moving as slowly as clouds. They have always been here, since before anyone remembers, since before the bush was cleared and all the houses were built.

Adults pay them little attention. Young children sometimes dress them in old clothes and hats as if they were dolls or scarecrows, and are always scolded by parents, whose reasons are unclear. ‘Just don’t,’ they say sternly.

Some older boys take great delight in beating them with baseball bats, golf clubs, or whatever is at hand, including the victim’s own snapped-off limbs. With careful aim a good strike will send the head — a faceless clod of earth — flying high into the air. The body remains passively upright until smashed to splinters between heels and asphalt.

This can go on for hours, depending on how many the boys can find. But eventually it stops being amusing. It becomes boring, somehow enraging, the way they just stand there and take it. What are they? Why are they here? What do they want? Whack! Whack! Whack!

The only response is the sound of dead branches falling from old trees on windless evenings, and random holes appearing in front lawns, dark sockets where clods of earth have been removed during the night. And sure enough there they are again, standing by fences and driveways, in alleyways and parks, silent sentinels.

Are they here for a reason? It’s impossible to know, but if you stop and stare at them for a long time, you can imagine that they too might be searching for answers, for some kind of meaning. It’s as if they take all our questions and offer them straight back: Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want?

The Nameless holiday

The nameless holiday happens once a year, usually around late August, sometimes October. It is always anticipated by children and adults alike with mixed emotion: it’s not exactly festive, but still a celebration of sorts, the origin of which has been long forgotten.

All that is known are the familiar rituals: the laying out of one’s most prized possessions on the bedroom floor; then choosing one special object — exactly the right one — and carrying it carefully up a ladder to the roof and leaving it under the TV aerial (already decorated with small shiny things such as chocolate wrappers, old CDs, and the tops off tubs of yoghurt, licked clean and threaded with string, tied with special slip-knots).

Then there is the traditional midnight picnic in the backyard, front lawn, or any place with a good view of one’s own roof — across the street if necessary, which is why families sometimes gather by the roadside on blankets. Here are born fond memories of freshly baked gingerbread crows, hot pomegranate juice as tart as a knife and small plastic whistles, inaudible to the ears of both humans and dogs. Not to mention all that excited chatter and giggling, all that polite shushing, everyone struggling to observe the convention of silence.

Those who stay awake long enough are rewarded by a momentary sound that never fails to draw a sharp intake of breath — the delicate tapping of hoofs descending on roof tiles. It is always so startling, so hard to believe at first, like a waking dream or a rumour made solid. But sure enough, there he is, the reindeer with no name: enormous, blind as a bat, sniffing under the TV aerial with infinite animal patience. He always knows exactly which objects are so loved that their loss will be felt like the snapping of a cord to the heart, and it’s only these that he nudges tenderly until they become hooked onto his great antlers. The rest he leaves alone, leaping gracefully back up into the cool darkness.

What a remarkable, unnameable feeling it is, right at the moment of his leaping: something like sadness and regret, of suddenly wanting your gift back and held tight to your chest, knowing that you will certainly never see it again. And then there is the letting go as your muscles release, your lungs exhale, and the backwash of longing leaves behind this one image on the shore of memory: a huge reindeer on your roof, bowing down.

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Tales from Outer Suburbia 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
Tales from Outer Suburbia is a graphic novel for young readers by award-winning Australian illustrator and author, Shaun Tan. There are fifteen tales, each illustrated with Tan’s wonderfully evocative artwork. The endpapers are filled with intricate drawings; the contents page is in the form of an envelope whose stamps list the tales, their denomination denoting the page number, whose addressee forms the dedication, whose sticker credits the publisher, all so clever! The second-last page is basically an acknowledgements page, but in the form of a library sticker. The tales are many and varied: some quirky and strange, some funny, some very moving. The illustrations are, of course, wonderful and careful examination of each page reveals many more items than are apparent at first glance. Tan has a talent for descriptive prose too: “The newly planted fruit trees died in the sandy soil of the too-bright backyard and were left like grave-markers under the slack laundry lines, a small cemetery of disappointment.” Different tales are likely to appeal to different readers, but favourites are likely to be “no other country” (a mysterious inner courtyard), “alert but not alarmed” (backyard ICBMs) and “our expedition” (a trek to the limits of Dad’s street directory). Marvellous!!
Anjoel22 More than 1 year ago
This is a refreshingly different picture book for mature children and adults alike. It is comprised of 15 thought-provoking stories which are all complimented by stunning imagery. Every story is emotionally powerful and leaves the reader considering its message for some time afterwards. The mixed-media illustrations are unique and lend strength and beauty to each page. This is a unique treat for lovers of different picture books. I can only hope that Shaun Tan will be blessing us with more of his genius in the future. Highly recommended!
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Welcome to the suburbs of Australia as seen through the eyes of author Shaun Tan. This collection of fifteen stories is creatively written and illustrated. A comment on the last page mentions that the book was created with the assistance of "the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body."

Not only are readers presented with tales inspired by humor and often bizarre events, but they are also treated to unique, eye-catching artwork with each story. One story, titled "Stick Figures," asks readers to imagine twig-like creatures that roam the neighborhoods. Their stick bodies and sod heads are magical and mysterious.

"Eric" is a foreign exchange student like no other you can imagine. His view of our world and the things he takes from it will make readers look more closely at the little things in their everyday lives.

"Distant Rain" is created on bits and scraps of paper. It presents the idea that all the snippets, phrases, and sound bytes people encounter daily might all blend together in a massive ball like bits and pieces of poetry. "A vast accumulation of papery bits that ultimately takes to the air, levitating by the sheer force of so much unspoken emotion" will have readers appreciating the written and spoken word on a whole new level.

My favorite of the stories is "Alert but Not Alarmed." Here readers are asked to visualize a neighborhood where every backyard includes a huge "intercontinental ballistic missile." Placed there by the government, these missiles are at the ready to protect the neighborhoods from harm. As the years go by and the missiles remain unfired, people begin to develop their own unique ways to utilize each missile. Their protection changes from objects of deadly force and destruction to objects of art and usefulness.

Author Shaun Tan provides entertainment and a good deal of food for thought in TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA. It is an excellent source of creative writing ideas and genre variety to be used with students of just about any age.
kpickett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A crazy beautiful collection of vignettes about a variety of topics, my favorite being the water buffalo that lived down the street and always gave the best advice. Each one is short but poignant and beautifully illustrated. Those who loved Tan's The Arrival will also love this book.
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This illustrated set of stories is a delight to read. The drawings are fantastic! At the end of each chapter, it seems like I have just awoken from a little napping dream, from the surreal pictures to the slightly strange stories. I always say that reading is like dreaming when you are awake, but this book is more like being in a dream than anything else I have read.
paeonia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Goodness! Life in the suburbs is stranger than I ever imagined. Australian Shaun Tan has written fifteen strange little stories take place in the bungalows, unfriendly neighbourhoods and strip malls that crop up at the edges of our cities. A water buffalo occupies an empty lot; a man in a deep-sea diving suit enters a neighbour¿s house and doesn¿t come out again; two boys follow a map, and find the world ends at the map¿s edge; ballistic missiles are turned into potting sheds and doghouses. Tan has illustrated these odd fantasies with a variety of techniques including pen and ink, pencil, torn paper collage, and watercolour, generally in somber colours. The illustrations, which often contain layers of detail, expand the stories beyond the written word. The books is listed as young adult, and it will probably be found on the shelf with graphic fiction although it does not follow the usual panel and speech balloon format of a graphic novel. The stories are generally thought provoking, but not necessarily profound. I am not sure what a teen would think of this book. Some may welcome the opportunity to question the assumptions of ordinary life; others may be impatient with the author¿s pretensions to a philosophical depth that is never quite realized. Generally I found the illustrations more satisfying than the prose, and Tan¿s experimentation with various illustrative styles was very interesting. Even the end papers were fun to look at.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful, picture book of short stories. The publisher promotes it as juvenile literature but I found the stories immensely deep and could not imagine a child appreciating the full depth of each story. Some stories are one page long, some are several pages long but each is profusely illustrated in full colour by the fantastic shaun tan. The illustrations are not just there to illustrate the story but are an integral part of the story, in fact one story has several pages of wordless illustration to propel the story along. Some of the stories are about children but certainly not all of them, one for example is about a couple about to be married.I enjoyed each story but would classify them as strange and quirky. Each tells a rather bizarre tale that the reader finds themselves looking deeper for the message or reading between the lines for what is really happening. The artwork is amazing and there are several spreads of collage art, which as a practitioner myself, I found highly appealing. I would recommend this to those who enjoy bizarre short stories and those who enjoy graphic novels. Even though this is not a graphic novel, I found the same elements present of text and illustrations working hand in hand. Really, a delightful quick read.
laVermeer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a gorgeous book! The physical package of this book is wonderful: an embossed case with an appealing varnish, fascinating endpapers, and delightful front and back matters. I was hooked before I had read a word of the text.And then there's the text itself: smart, funny, playful, slightly absurd, engagingly thoughtful ¿ and complemented by beautiful artwork and clean, readable type. The stories and poems are intelligent and relatable, emotionally deft and keenly balanced. I enjoyed this book so much (I've already re-read several of the stories) and would definitely recommend it to YA readers looking for a quick, off-kilter, non-series-based read.The only trouble with this book is that it doesn't announce itself well to its intended audience. Because of its trim size, I don't see many YA readers picking it up voluntarily; this is a book another reader would have to recommend. However, it would make a welcome addition to classroom libraries and teen sections. Don't let the presentation fool you: these are sly, sophisticated stories, nicely supported by attractive, often richly detailed, images. Adults will like this collection, too.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's not on anyone's classics book...yet. But what a fantastic read! Fantastic is a key word, because every story feels like a fantasy, yet terribly real.Yes, I, who grew up in suburbia when nobody knew it would take over America like a disease, I always thought of suburbia as a strange world but never ventured into the corners of suburbia that Tan takes us to in this book.The pictures are perfect and the stories so thoughtful I would love to read them again and again.
unaluna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Arrival is one of my favourites so I was pretty excited to get this one. I love Tales from Outer Suburbia. The stories are perfect-- short, whimsical and a little bit weird. They reminded me of maps my cousin and I used to make when we were kids-- you know: "This isn't the garage, this is where the smelly elves live, and we have to walk on the right side of the garden hose otherwise the crocodiles will get us." There is a sinister quality to the stories as well which only enhances them, which makes all them more true to me somehow.The illustrations, are, as expected, great. I particularly love the the illustrations in the story about Eric, when the family opens up the cupboard and finds what their friend has left behind.Suburbia *is* a weird place, and I think Tan accurately reflects all of its possibilities. I would like to take a stroll through his head to see what other pictures are lurking on there.
KarenBall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most artistic and interesting books I've seen yet! A collection of 15 stories and poems, all illustrated and loosely set in a generic, unnamed suburb. Each story comes from Shaun Tan's sketchbook, and he has a way of twisting a story or an idea slightly off-kilter. There's a silent water buffalo that lives in an abandoned lot, and always points you in the general direction of the answer to your question, a discovery of a magical inner courtyard in an impoverished home (my favorite), a search for what's at the edge of a map, a family who welcomes a foreign exchange student,what people decided to do with intercontinental missiles parked in their backyards, and many more. Each story or poem is illustrated in a different style, with different media (various paints, pastels, colored pencils, collages, gouache, etc)and the illustrations add depth and life to the words. It's perfect for middle school, where we all think and discover things in odd ways -- reminds me of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for that. I've already handed it over to the English department with an emphatic "You have GOT to read this!"
kewing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joyous, mysterious, surreal, brilliant. Tan is equally adept with words and images. You'll often find Tan's works in a children's room, but while accessible to many children, they speak to adults of all ages. These many layered tales are timeless.
ShellyCBuchanan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fabulous and fascinating collection of fantasy shorts depicting the realms of possibility of life in the suburbs, if you are willing to consider whales on lawns, creatures from outer space and stick figure roaming about the neighborhood. I was. And I had a terrific time letting Tan take my imagination out of this world. His delightful Klee-like figures titallate the eye and mid and perfectly dance with the storis so simply told.
rastaphrog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of fifteen illustrated short stories aimed at children, some of the stories may be too deep for very young children to grasp underlying meanings they may have. Some of the stories are humorous, some thought provoking, others may just have you saying "HUH?" The illustrations make the stories all the more enjoyable as they put in front of your eyes what you may be trying to envision in your mind. Some might describe these stories as being strange, but that would depend on your mindset. Being somewhat strange myself, several times I caught myself thinking something along the lines of "Now that would be cool to experience."Even if you don't have children to share these stories with, they make for an enjoyable read for "children" of all ages. With stories of only a few pages each, this book would fall into what I call "bathroom reading" as you could easily finish one during the time you're otherwise occupied.
zzshupinga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If this is the first Shaun Tan book that you've picked up then you are in for a special treat. Not only does Tan continue his tradition of brilliant artwork, but he also showcases his story telling skills as well. each story/poem is only a page to a few pages, but Tan puts so much depth into it you feel like you've read an entire novel. For example, in the story "No other country" the reader instantly becomes ensnared in the idea of a courtyard hidden inside the house.The best thing about this book to me is the illustrations. Tan has chosen to illustrate each story with its own style. With other books this may mean having 5 or 6 different artists working on the book or having subpar illustrations in some areas. But Tan expertly shows off his skills to be able to illustrate stories in styles ranging from ancient Japaneses paintings to Roman frescoes. Each style unique, each style breathtaking in its own right.I highly, highly recommend this book to all ages and to all types of readers. If you've never read a graphic novel before or never read Shaun Tan's books this is a good book to pick up and start with.
chibimajo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Collection of short, illustrated tales. Several of them are very weird, it reminds me of a webcomic I read about how random Monty Python was back in the day. Shaun Tan has some very random stories thrown in here. Some poignant and sweet, others leave you scratching your head and wondering... what? Fabulous art - just like all his other books.
reverends on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To say that Shaun Tan has switched gears with his newest book is an understatement. Tales from Outer Suburbia differs from The Arrival as greatly as Maus differs from Mars Needs Moms. Tan has shifted from a silent and captivating depiction of the displacement and wonder felt by a family of immigrants, to a collection of endearing short stories about the bizarre happenings in a quaint little town. The good news is that neither the art nor storytelling has suffered from the transition. The art is rich and warm, with a slightly surreal feeling, while the stories are simple tales with deeper philosophical and moralistic meanings blended into the background. This is the kind of book that imaginative children will love, and adults who fondly remember books like Where the Sidewalk Ends will embrace.
kristenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think what impressed me the most about this is that it was so different from The Arrival, but also so very good. Reminded me a lot of Kevin Huizenga's Ganges stories.
perlle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A children's book that seemed more appropriate for adults who want to remember what it was like to read to read a book as a child.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A masterpiece like [1779085::The Arrival] must be a tough act to follow, even for one as hugely talented as Shaun Tan, which is probably why he wisely chose to go down a different path as a follow-up with this amusing collection of illustrated short stories. Based on this book, one could be excused for thinking that Australian suburbs are that much weirder than the North American kind, which is something I have no way of verifying for sure as a city-dweller. For all we know, maybe they do use inter-continental ballistic missiles as BBQs in their back yards, and men might walk the streets in antique diving suits, and their foreign exchange students could very well come from outer space. After all, who knows what happens over there down under? With an artist this creative, the endpapers alone might be worth the price of the book.
kikione on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is made up of 15 short stories complete with amazing illustrations by Shaun Tan. Each story stands alone with many quirky characters and settings. Students will be pleasantly surprised and entertained by Tan's pictures and stories that accompany them. He is imaginative and creative, sure to engage all readers.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fifteen little tales -- vignettes, really -- in which the Australian suburbs are home to the odd and the fantastic. Here we meet, among others, a wandering figure in an old-fashioned diving suit, an exchange student who lives in a cupboard, and a dugong stranded on a lawn miles from the sea, as well learning what happens when every home is equipped with an inter-continental missile and what really becomes of discarded poems. It's wonderfully strange, frequently charming, and surprisingly evocative. It's also gorgeously illustrated, although calling it "illustrated" is really misleading, as the visual elements are often intrinsic parts of the stories. Highly recommended for adults and kids.
ameyers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This wonderful collection of short stories takes place in suburbia but every story has an element of the supernatural. Some of the stories are mini graphic novels, some are only a page long. I highly recommend this book, especially for boys (of all ages ¿ my husband, who doesn¿t read books, is reading it). This is also a good pick for reluctant readers because of the shortness of the stories, the high interest of the plotlines, and the visual support.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wide ranging collection of stories and pictures by Shaun Tan, telling tales of secrets, some extremely unusual, from the suburbs. An excnage student from another planet, a reindeer who comes searching for gifts, decorated missiles in yards and snippets of poetry banding together are only part of the story.
delzey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Following Tan previous books to these shores, The Arrival, I know there was a lot of anticipation over how Tan would follow-up his genre-bending stranger-in-a-strange land tale. Well the answer is that he did it by creating fifteen entirely new strange lands, or perhaps they're all an extension of the same strange land, but clearly this Outer Suburbia is proof that there are multiple world in his creative universe.The problem with coming late to the review party is that it's difficult to find something to say that hasn't already been covered. Nonetheless, I'll give it a go and see what surfaces.Tan's Outer Suburbia is a place where the unusual isn't. An over-sized water buffalo occupies and empty lot at the end of the street, silently dispensing advice with the point of his hoof. A pair of brothers set out to the edge of the map to see if, indeed, the world continued beyond what was on the page or if it dropped off into an abyss. In keeping up with the arms race the government places missiles in every citizen's backyard, for them to take care of, though over time they have become pizza ovens and tool sheds through disuse. It's a familiar world and alien at the same time, a place a little odd from the outside looking in. Then again, one culture's norms are another one's peculiarities, and so who are we to judge?Sometimes this absurdity has its darker side. "The Undertow" appears to be another absurd story about the mysterious appearance of a dugong on a suburban lawn. As a rescue is underway the occupants of the house are too busy shouting at one another to notice the commotion outside at first. Only their son seems to know what the creature is, but no one can fathom how it got there. Once the dugong is rescued the neighborhood returns to normal. The parents in the house shouting and throwing things at one another fail to realize their sun has remained outside to lie on the lawn looking up at the starts, hoping his parents never realize he is outside yet waiting for their inevitable verbal abuse. Instead, the story ends with them coming out to silently carry their son back into the house.I single out this story because, for me, this is the heart of this collection. Though I doubt this was Tan's intent, all these stories could be the fabrication of this one boy's imagination. His escape from his outer suburban nightmare is an inner retreat. True, many of these stories are too complicated to be part of the inner life of a boy who feels trapped in an abusive family situation, so then the story feels like an allegory of suburban angst, that displacement that allows people to accept the absurd as part of their daily lives. The stories we tell ourselves to remain calm and grounded, sometimes these are no less absurd than a foreign exchange student who looks to be extraterrestrial and is the size of a tea cup.On a more practical level, Tan once again confuses me with his intended audience. This picture book has stories too long and too complex for most picture book readers, so I have to conclude that the book is intended for older readers who are not afraid to read a book with color illustrations on nearly every other page. In some ways this book is a throwback to another time, when the picture book was not limited to the beginning reader. I am thinking on my beloved copy of Dahl's The Magic Finger which was originally published in picture book format with illustrations but currently exists as a more conventional paperback intended for middle grade audiences. I always believed that the Dahl conversion was partly a concession to keep picture books "simple" and move the books with more story up as reading levels and abilities shrank. That is, the audience is being held back from more complex stories, and if Tan wasn't also the illustrator of this book I could totally see it sitting on the shelves with middle grade titles.Unlike some illustrators whose picture books seem aimed at an adult audience, Tan's book is clearly meant to appeal t