I love this book. The smell of its pages transports me back to my childhood. Though it’s a children’s book, it’s also reminiscent of the graphic novel (although technically it would be a graphic short story collection) in which the pictures drive the story as much as the text.
Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of stories that whimsically tap into the imaginative potential of suburbia – often considered a sort of sterile, mass-produced cultural wasteland (a judgment not far from the truth, says this former suburbanite). Yet Tales from Outer Suburbia challenges this stereotype, transforming suburbia into a portal to another fantastical world (literally in one story, in which a family discovers they have a secret inner courtyard in their home). Suburbia is no longer drab and dull, but rather a departure point for any number of possible adventures.
Each of these stories is wonderful, though my favourites are likely “eric”, in which a family takes in an “exchange student” who is only a few inches high and lives in a teacup in their cupboard, “distant rain” which speculates on what happens to all the poems people write, and “grandpa’s story”, in which a grandfather relates the ritual adventure in search of wedding rings that every couple must take before they are married. These don’t look remotely like parables although there are subtle lessons for both children and adults – to be kind to strange neighbours, to respect those who are different, that marriage is road fraught with peril (but endurable), that love is ubiquitous and cycles through the world like the rain.
The text and images are perfectly matched – each with the perfect amount of imagination, whimsy and just a shade of darkness. The images are what would initially appeal to parents as well as children. Tan has a remarkable attention to detail and every inch of the book is used effectively – from the postage stamp-themed table of contents (perhaps making the book a missive to the non-suburban world), to designing the credits as an old-fashioned library check out card, to the end papers crammed with minature sketches of different elements of the book and more.
Read it and share it with whomever you can. City-dwellers, this may give you a little more respect for the satellite territories, and Suburbanites, it may give you a little more respect for your homeland, or at the very least, give you a great excuse to go to the mall.