Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Scholastic Trade Publishing for providing an advanced copy for the purposes of review.
In simple, clear-cut phrasing, Shaun Tan’s Cicada is a stunning, bold, and impressive work of children’s fiction. Tan has always been known for pushing the envelope in the boundaries of children’s literature, introducing adult themes that most authors would be uncomfortable in including. His newest book is the very definition of this author’s memorable creativity and structuring. Telling the story of a cicada, a froghopper-like insect, that has worked in an office job for an outstanding seventeen years. However, ignored by his human peers due to his unique race, this cicada stakes forsaken and dangerously alone. On the surface, this premise is intriguing, but is still only a mere glimpse into what Cicada provides. Its lush and gorgeous images are tainted with seemingly endless buckets of gray, until its red-infested climax where both its story and illustrations merge in satisfying ways. The work is easily Tan’s best work, even with such a strong predecessor in Tales from the Inner City. Featuring a metaphor-reliant story that speaks for the ages, Tan’s Cicada is a breath of fresh air for the picture book genre with its boundary-defiant nature.
Kicking off with the illustrations, Tan smartly chose a very distinct and variant palette of colors for this distinct and variant story. Using large quantities of dull gray, mixed in with some bolded greens, Tan does a wonderful job of showcasing lighting and shading. From a distinct detail on his part as the cicada is seen square center with a soft gradient of light to a sweeping image of brightly painted red creatures, plastered symmetrically across the page. It’s a stunning collection of illustrations that I wish could have been more diversified, especially towards the end, but still is emotionally related to the story’s heart. In fact, Tan never differentiates narratively between his illustrations and story. They all feel like a cohesive piece, blending imagery and figurative language to create a truly stylistic ride.