Wordless Narratives Book Talk

Two Mondays ago, the library hosted a book talk for a study that centered around the children’s book, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, a wordless graphic novel about a man who leaves his family in a poor town in search of opportunity in another country.  The talk was led by Carmen Martinez-Roldan, Evelyn Arizpe, Teresa Colomer, and Marcella Terrusi, who conducted the study in various schools and countries with immigrant children in elementary schools.  The response strategies to The Arrival and the findings can be read in their book, Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An International Inquiry with Immigrant Children and The Arrival.

The Arrival is full of beautiful illustrations that are augmented by no words being present.  During the talk, the power of narratives was the central theme, in particular when they are wordless.  The lack of words in a narrative might seem counter intuitive but that is the strength of this book.  It allows for the viewers to read the story in their own way so the experience becomes more of an interpretation while taking the role of a co-author.  The emphasis becomes to make meaning out of it rather than getting the story right and fosters inclusion.  This is especially important for immigrant children who are becoming bilingual because they are gaining and losing a language.  When interpreting The Arrival they are able to reclaim the migrant experience by injecting their own story in the narrative.

After the talk I asked what it was about The Arrival that they gravitated towards out of other possible books. It turns out that it is unique in its topic and style of narrative.  It has cinematographic elements that causes the story to slow down so that the viewer looks at everything.  It incorporates post-modernism by including a story within a story. Sometimes with the usage of vignettes.

Although I’m not an immigrant myself, my parents are which makes me a first generation Mexican-American. My first language was Spanish and I was in bilingual classes till I was in 2nd grade.  Being born and raised in the U.S. did make it easier to assimilate but as discussed in the book talk, becoming bilingual can mean you lose some of a language while gaining another. As a result, I’m now more fluent in English, which is something I didn’t expect to happen growing up.  In this way, I connected to The Arrival and what the study addressed.

Interestingly, though the graphic novel does not have text to accompany the illustrations, the title has been changed in some translations.  In the Spanish version the title is Emigrantes, which means ’emigrant’ in English.  This mainly stood out to me because it was mentioned in the talk that although for the most part the children were open and excited to participate in the study, some declined because they did not want to be associated with being an immigrant.  Despite, the heart of the study focused on giving an opportunity for the children to become the storytellers of their journey to another country and to provide an inclusive environment rather than through a lens that makes them outsiders.  The Arrival is indeed a unique book and a powerful narrative to use as a tool for immigrant children to become interpreters and storytellers of their journey and include them in the discourse.