Author: Shaun Tan
Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Page Count: 32
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Original Publication Date: 2018
Genre(s): Picture books, Children’s, Fiction
This short picture book follows a hardworking cicada who is underappreciated at work, though he knows he works harder than any of his human co-workers. Mistreated, sad, and alone, the little cicada is ready to give up…when something amazing happens.
Sooooooooo yes, I know this is a picture book. If this wasn’t one of “our” books at work, I would never have read it. I don’t read many children’s books anymore. But my co-workers and I were discussing why so many librarians were returning this book to us and requesting anything else. So, what was all the fuss about? I decided to go grab it off our shared shelf and check it out.
Cicada is a very, very short read. You can read it in under 5 minutes. There are very few words accompanying the illustrations, and many of the words are repeated. I’m not sure there’s anything to “spoil,” what with Cicada being a picture book and all, so I’m just going to go into detail about what the story is about. As mentioned above, the story follows a hardworking cicada, a data clerk who has worked in the same office building for seventeen years alongside his human co-workers. The humans are ruthless towards the cicada and treat him unfairly. For example, he’s denied any promotion by Human Resources because he’s “not human” and “need(s) no resources”—rude. He’s also forced to use a bathroom twelve blocks away rather than the office bathroom, and to make matters worse, the company docks his pay for this inconvenience.
Towards the end of the story, the cicada finally retires. Now he has no job, no home (he’s been living in the wall space at the office), no money, no one—nothing to live for. So he makes his way to the top of the office building, clearly about to attempt suicide though all that’s said with words is “time to say goodbye.” But right as he’s about to throw himself of the building…well, you’ll just have to read and find out. It’s a happy ending.
Here at work, we categorize this book as a middle school book. I can see why librarians may not want their middle schoolers reading this… The suicide is only implied, but this may not be the best way to really introduce the topic of suicide to a 13-year-old. However, some people actually told me they don’t think the book is about a suicidal cicada at all, and that it’s just about the life cycle of a cicada. I can see that, buuuuut…..just read the book, it’s definitely implied. I can’t see it any other way.
Also, can a middle schooler really relate to this text? They don’t yet understand the horrors of a 9 – 5 office job, the struggles of paying rent and affording basic needs… I would give this to someone in college, rather. Yes, it’s a picture book, but the themes aren’t really going to apply to middle schoolers, in my opinion.
That said, I did enjoy the book. Being in my twenties, I can relate. With the morosely beautiful illustrations and the simple text, Cicada is certainly the most…unique…book I’ve read this year.