I can always count on Shaun Tan to cut close to the bone. Cicada stuns. In this picture book for older readers, Cicada is the ultimate company man. In clipped, terse sentences he tells of his seventeen years of loyalty and hard work, of staying late, of meticulous work, and heartbreakingly, of mistreatment by co-workers and bosses. Cicada is an outsider. He doesn't fit it and he knows it. Still, he goes about his work with dignity. When he retires, he receives nothing. He is just told to clean his desk while the boss looks on, presumably to make sure he doesn't steal anything. He has no home to go to and in one devastating illustration, he is shown heading up the stairs as he says, "It's time to say goodbye."
The page turn reveals a wordless double-page spread of cicada standing on the roof ledge. See why this is a picture book for older readers? All is not lost though and the following wordless spreads allow the reader to let out the breath they were holding.
Now, I have no great love for cicadas. Right now, as I sit on my deck writing this, I am nearly deafened by their "song." There is a carapace stuck to the screen of my deck door. I do give the buggers props though. Seventeen years of what, gestating (?) underground before emerging for the sole pursuit of mating and living for a scant few weeks of summer. That's determination.
Grey is the predominant color in these textured oil paintings. Cicada is bright green and wears a rumpled grey suit complete with ID badge. His cubicle is one of many in a grey-scape. This book draws you in while simultaneously repelling. You just can't look away. You might, as I did, realize you might not have been kind to Cicada were he your co-worker. He's ugly. He's odd. He talks funny.
What a way into an introspective conversation with kids! There has been a clamor lately asking for lists of books to teach empathy. This one should be on it. Not to be missed.