In 2007, Shaun Tan captivated readers young and old with his wordless graphic novel The Arrival. He's back with an equally inventive book that should appeal to all ages intrigued by fantasy and irony.
Tales From Outer Suburbia (Arthur A. Levine, $19.99, 96 pages, age 10 and older) includes 15 short stories, loosely connected because each takes place (or begins) in what looks like the sort of suburb Steven Spielberg used for the film E.T. Cookie-cutter houses, nearby woods, expansive skies, highways with underpasses.
The "strangeness" factor of each story arrives in the form of odd visitors, unusual quests, secret rooms and bizarre machines, in addition to aliens. Each tale is uniquely inventive and accompanied by Tan's distinctive colored sketches.
In Eric, a wispy figure with what looks like a leaf for a head is a foreign-exchange student who lives in his host family's pantry. He collects small oddities such as buttons and bottle caps, which, at the end of the story, family members discover how he's put to use.
Grandpa's Story relates an unusual wedding ritual involving travel to a surreal land. In No Other Country, a family discovers a secret courtyard accessed through a weak portion of the ceiling of their broken-down house. Stick Figures is a parable about bullying starring twig-like beings with tumbleweed heads.
Each story seems more surprising than the last. Nearly every page includes an illustration and Tan often devotes a double page exclusively to a color drawing with narrative captions, or a large illustration that reinforces the power of the tale.