KS2 Book Topic: The Arrival

  • KS2 Book Topic: The Arrival

What emotions will your class experience and what debates will emerge as they explore a strange new world through the eyes of a migrant in

If you’re looking for a book to inspire creative writing and artwork with upper KS2 children, then why not try The Arrivalby Australian illustrator, Shaun Tan? This wordless picture book invites readers to explore a strange new world in the company of a migrant who must leave his family and everything he’s ever known to make the long and difficult journey to another land.

Here, everything is different: language, buildings, customs, food – even the pets seem alien. Seeing this world through the traveller’s eyes, we are as confused as he is. But the city’s inhabitants have their own stories to tell and everyone helps out. By the time our traveller’s family is able to join him, we know that they’ll be happy in this new place .

The Arrival deals with some pretty big questions and is far from being a childish story. It appeals strongly to upper KS2 children, who often respond with startling insight and maturity to its themes. By its nature, the book invites a slow and thoughtful exploration – the lack of words being a stimulus for the reader to create multiple layers of stories and meanings. But children come to The Arrival with fresh minds and eyes, and find the things that matter most to them. It’s a book that inspires responses and opinions, and as such is the perfect starting point for creative work as well as discussion and debate.

1 Share the book

Prepare your children for the experience to come by exploring a strange old suitcase full of intriguing objects. Who might own these items? What is the traveller’s story? If your children had to leave their homes and travel far away, which object would they choose to carry with them, and why?

Once you’re ready to share the book, consider projecting the pages onto a big screen so that everyone can see each image clearly. Or sit children in small groups, each with a copy of the book, and take your time to explore the spreads.

The Arrival can be approached on an image-by-image basis, or you can read and enjoy the story before going back and taking a more leisurely stroll through all the detail.

Each successive experience supplies the reader with something new, so allow plenty of time for children to return to the book individually between group reading sessions.

2 Encourage discussion

Children will have lots to say about this book. Questions such as “What can you see?” and “What might be happening here?” will give way to more abstract discussion as you progress - “Why might this character have behaved like that?” “How does this image make you feel?” “What do you think Shaun Tan could have been thinking about when he drew this picture?”

Focus on open-ended questions and create an atmosphere in which children ask their own. Aim to encourage curiosity and lateral thinking, rather than checking comprehension skills.

If children find talking about the pictures challenging at first, try the following activities to stimulate ideas:


Choose a single image. Ask children to imagine they have stepped into this picture. What can they see? Smell? What do things feel like? If they’re outside, how warm is it? Is it windy? What can they hear? Are the characters talking to each other? What are they saying? How do the characters feel? If you could ask these characters a question, what would it be? What’s happening beyond the edges of this picture, out of view of the reader, but visible once they’ve stepped inside the book?


Ask the children to be picture detectives, on the lookout for clues. As a class, share the hunt together, or allocate one topic to each of several smaller groups, and see what they come up with. Try looking for:

  • Images of birds, and references to them (including egg-like objects and other suggestions of flight and fertility)
  • Strange new creatures – animals and plants
  • Machines (what tasks are they accomplishing?)
  • Images of dining tables (where do we see them and why?)
  • Examples of the unfamiliar language (what might each notice say?)
  • Radial patterns like a sunburst (used by Shaun Tan to suggest life, energy and new possibilities)

3 Writing opportunities WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?

Choose a double page spread with plenty of characters. In each frame, decide what characters are thinking or saying. Write this on a post-it and stick next to the character. Use the post-its to kickstart a film or TV script (include instructions on how each scene is to be shot: props, costumes, lighting, etc.).


This city has an underpinning logic. Research the pictures to discover the rules behind the way it works. What does a new arrival need to know? Can children write an instruction manual to help travellers get around, buy food, deal with all the machines and other details of day-to-day life?


What does the traveller write on the origami bird? What does his daughter reply?


Look at the three stories within stories embedded in this book (identifiable by their black edging). Every character has a complex story to tell. Using the endpapers, where there are 60 small passportstyle images of faces, create profiles and back stories for some of these characters.

4 Cross-curricular ideas IMAGINARY CREATURES

In the strange, new city, each household has its own ‘companion animal’. Ask children to create their own imaginary creatures. This can be done by taking elements of existing creatures and blending them into a whole. (Shaun Tan used this approach to help him create the traveller’s companion, which he described as mouse-like, dog-like, tadpole-like; even shark-like!)

Using plasticine or similar, make models of the creatures. These will help children draw their creatures accurately from different angles – another trick Shaun Tan uses to develop his work.

Children can make their own books, detailing the life cycle of their creature, what it eats, where it lives, how to care for it – maybe even how it evolved?


“Even the most anonymous character, in the strangest situation, is familiar to us if we are allowed to know his feelings, and so be invited to walk for a moment in his shoes” - Shaun Tan

Make a collection of shoes, enough for all the children in your class. Working in a large, open space, place each pair of shoes on a large sheet of paper. Children should move around the room, looking at the shoes and writing questions on the paper for the imaginary owners of each pair.

Give each child a pair of shoes, along with its accompanying sheet of paper. Children should invent a character who might have owned this pair of shoes. The questions asked by other children will stimulate this process, but each child is free to make up anything they wish. Ask children to decide how their character might stand, move and walk. Working in pairs, can children develop short monologues or mimes?


Make a collection of packaging and other junk materials. Use this to create a cityscape of strange and wonderful buildings. Paint them white, so they’re uniform – you’ll see the underlying shapes more easily. Add blank windows and doors. Make plans of the city (from above) and draw elevations of its skyline (from the side). Experiment with desk lamps to see how light and shade alter the atmosphere in the city’s ‘streets’. You can add small-world models (e.g. Playmobil), if you like. Take photographs from different perspectives, including low angles looking up (another trick used by Shaun Tan – it makes the buildings seem enormous). Use the experience and photographs to lead into creative writing. How does it feel to be alone in a strange and faceless city?

Now populate the city. Draw people and stick them to the windows, as if they’re looking out. Invent names for each building and street. Make model people and invent stories about them. What are they doing? Where are they going? Who will they see?

This time, draw maps, instead of plans, full of details about the city and its inhabitants.


Find out about the journeys made by children in your school. Did their families live anywhere else before coming to your town? What about the wider community? Would anybody be willing to come and talk to your class about their experiences travelling and settling in a new land?

Pie Corbett