Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of short stories. Some very short (a page or two), some a bit longer. And how fantastic they are! I love love love these stories! Or should I say the illustrations. I’m not sure which I like more: the artwork or the stories. They’re both amazing. I often feel that the stories illustrate the pictures than the usual other way around. I can imagine Shaun Tan first drew the illustrations first, then wrote a short story about them. Just a thought :) (and actually, I just read on his website that it was indeed what he did for Tales from Outer Suburbia)

tanTaken from shauntan.net:

Tales from Outer Suburbia is an anthology of fifteen very short illustrated stories. Each one is about a strange situation or event that occurs in an otherwise familiar suburban world; a visit from a nut-sized foreign exchange student, a sea creature on someone’s front lawn, a new room discovered in a family home, a sinister machine installed in a park, a wise buffalo that lives in a vacant lot. The real subject of each story is how ordinary people react to these incidents, and how their significance is discovered, ignored or simply misunderstood.

Read his very detail thoughts on each story. It’s amazing how some images are so distinct from each other, as if they were drawn by different artists.

I read this book very slowly, savoring just one story or two each night, and found that it’s probably the best way for me to read short stories, particularly this book. Just don’t rush through them. I don’t think my words can even begin to explain to you how amazing Tan’s work is, so please! Get the book from anywhere you possibly can and have a taste yourself!

One of my favorite is called Distant Rain. “Have you ever wondered what happens to all the poems people write?” is the first sentence. The story is brought in dozens of pieces of paper, scattered across a few pages as if they are carried by the wind and rain, forgotten, neglected, yet powerful.


Grandpa’s Story is another of my favorite. The story is told alternatively between words and illustrations, but not like one page at a time like normal people do. It starts with 2 pages of words, then 8 continuous pages of illustrations, then some pages alternate between words and pictures. I have never ever read anything like this before. As if at one point, he just thought that pictures could explain it better than words, so he just started to draw. Pages and pages, until he started going with words again. He doesn’t care about format. That’s my thought anyway.


There are many more amazing pieces. There are 15 in total. Too bad I was reading a library book. When I get a chance, I think I will buy it for my collection. It’s just that good. I want to show it to my kids and grand-kids and grand-grand-kids. You get the idea.

More pictures below to convince you to get it. See, even the table of content is so out of this world (that’s the picture below).


Another of my favorite is alert but not alarmed. About how everybody has missile on their backyards. First as mean of defense, they started to make use of the missiles in anything other than its initial intention.



eric is another one of my favorite. (How many favorites have I pointed out by now?) Everyone, meet Eric. Eric is a foreign student. (I think he looks like fire)


And gosh, the water buffalo! I love The Water Buffalo! There’s just something about that image of water buffalo pointing. My childhood home used to be located just next to two empty fields where some local water buffaloes bath and feed. Perhaps that’s why I got so attached to this particular piece.


I fall in love. I do.

I should also let you know that he’s an Australian :)

2008, 98 pp

2009 Australian Book Industry Awards Illustrated Book of the Year

Also reviewed by

Stainless Steel Droppings (more pictures here!) | A High and Hidden Place | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | She Reads Books | Bending Bookshelf | Reading Rants! | Peeking Between the Pages | Monniblog | Read Write Believe | The Funky Rooster

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14 thoughts on “Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan”

  1. Yeah, I was in love with this book after I read it! Wasn’t it amazing? I had so many favorites in this one that I realy can’t call any one story a favorite…just like you. But if someone told me I had to pick, it might be Eric. I loved the last page of that story…so sweet. I need to buy this one too! Mine was from the library too sadly :( Have you read The Red Tree by Tan? It’s amazing!!

  2. Suko: It truly is amazing!

    bethany: I hope you get and read it! Yes I totally fell in love with the artworks!

    Chris: That’s one of my favorite image too! I wish I could show it to everyone, but I think it’s much better for people to see it at the end of the story themselves. I haven’t read The Red Tree. This is the first Shaun Tan’s that I read. I am now planning to read ALL of his books!

    Nymeth: I really hope you get it soon! Would love to read what you think about it.

    1. The water buffalo illustration was definitely my most memorable. I lived near water buffalo pen when I was a kid so it struck a chord in me :). I loved Eric story too.

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