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‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’ by Shaun Tan

Grace Woollard By Grace Woollard

If you are looking for some unusual and inspirational short stories for Year 5 or Year 6, 'Tales from Outer Suburbia' by award-winning Shaun Tan may just be the book for you.

Intriguing and mysterious, these short stories have a flavour of 'The Twilight Zone', as they blend the familiar and alien in strange, amusing and sometimes unsettling ways. They are all set in Tan’s version of suburbia where the curious and peculiar lurk behind the everyday, although the stories are otherwise unrelated. Some are very short, more vignettes than narratives, while others, such as ‘Eric’, ‘Broken Toys’ and ‘Grandpa’s Story’ are fully formed. Tan often sets up a mystery and then leaves the room. The reader creates her or his own tale, filling in the gaps through speculation and imagination.

As with much of Tan’s work, the words and pictures tell different parts of the story. Reading the words without the pictures makes for an interesting exercise in considering the way the two different means of communication work together. The text has a rich and modern voice which speaks to the reader as if speaking in confidence to a friend. The illustrations are powerful, varied in style and form, and stand in their own right as pieces of captivating art. You could quite easily take one out of context and use as a trigger for writing.

There are many elements which make this a book we recommend:

  • quirky stories, short enough to share as a stimulus at the beginning of a lesson
  • irresistible triggers for discussion and writing
  • striking and thought-provoking illustrations
  • a ‘grown-up’ feel to hook reluctant readers and writers

Tales from Outer Suburbia is a rich resource in any upper key stage 2 classroom. Children can imaginatively continue the stories or fill-in the missing pieces, construct alternative narratives hinted at by the pictures, or write empathetically while changing the point of view. As the prose is light on dialogue, it lends itself well to role play, speech and scriptwriting. For non-fiction writing, children can produce recounts of the strange events, reports on the strangeness of their own hometowns or explanations of how the ‘Amnesia Machine’ or secret ‘Inner Courtyards’ work.

  • Category: One you may have missed
  • Age: Years 5 and 6
  • Topics: Fantasy stories, mystery, science-fiction, secret worlds, empathy
  • Teaching areas: Characterisation, story writing, reports, recounts, explanations

English planning with ' Tales from Outer Suburbia’

For teaching planning and resources using this book see Hamilton's Year 5 English block, 'Fantasy Stories by Shaun Tan’. Inspirational short stories from Tales from Outer Suburbia and other books by Shaun Tan are used to stimulate short story writing and to explore modal verbs, parenthesis and dialogue.