Friday, 16 November 2018

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 16th November 2018: "Cicada" by Shaun Tan (Hodder Children's Books)

Our first book of the week this week is a heart-wrenching, painfully well observed title that really defies the whole 'children's book' label...
"Cicada" by Shaun Tan is the long-awaited new book from one of the most innovative and revered figures in picture book history. Shaun Tan's books have won countless awards, and they're always the first books I reach for whenever people scoff or get snooty or look down their nose when you happen to mention you still read picture books.

"Still read" - why would you ever stop?

Both C and I read this one and there's a massive gulf between what this book meant to her, and what it meant to me. One person who has yet to experience the 'joy' of being an office drone, and one who has spent a substantial amount of his adult life staring at a screen to pick up a pay check.

"Cicada" - the titular character in this story is an ordinary everyday office worker. He just happens to be a giant bug (and if you've ever visited Australia and New Zealand, and sat outside in the evening, you'd have heard this little fella's song for sure).

Because of this, Cicada is treated pretty poorly. HR say that he doesn't need good working conditions - because he's not human.

Four hands would make my job a lot easier, for sure!

His boss passes him up for pay rises, he's been stuck on the same pay for 17 years.

He dutifully finishes his data entry work every day, often also picking up the duties of his lazier colleagues. He has no home, and lives in a cupboard in the office while his boss turns a blind eye.

Finally, at the end of his working life he retires with no pomp, no ceremony, not even a gold watch...just the order to clean his desk and get the heck out of the building.

But Cicada heads upwards instead, to the roof, and stands on the edge...

Harrowingly familiar to any of you?

We are absolutely NOT going to tell you what happens yet, but that moment has to be one of the most tense page-turns in picture book history. You'll see what we mean when you get there yourself.

Once again Shaun manages to create characters that you absolutely can't help but empathise with. 
Shaun has tapped into something here in such a multi-layered way that just about everyone (whether you work in an office or not, or whether you truly believe that the job you do is worthwhile and contributes something to the advancement of society or not) will identify with on one level. You never know, it might even prick the conscience of a few bosses who treat their workers like poor Cicada (I doubt it but hey, you can but hope).

I'm campaigning for #TokTokTok to become the hashtag for all downtrodden workers though. Let's see if it catches on.

C's best bit: The tense page turn described above when Cicada retires....just don't forget to breathe afterwards.

Daddy's favourite bit: So beautifully written and illustrated, so utterly and completely relatable for me and undoubtedly for a great many people. So many nuanced layers to the message it conveys. Shaun Tan is one of the most incredible talents working in children's publishing today.

"Cicada" by Shaun Tan is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).