Wow. Shaun Tan has done it again with another simple, almost wordless picture book that is hard-hitting and thought-provoking.
Cicada has been working for seventeen years in the same office block entering data for the humans. Without thanks, without recognition, without promotion, and being looked down upon by colleagues. Today is his last day and something extraordinary is about to happen…
Yes Cicada is an insect, but could easily be a human who is unnoticed at their place of work. As is often the case in corporate life, Cicada is just an overlooked and overworked small cog in a large machine. He is stuck in the monotonous daily grind of life with a dream of escaping. Cicada lives in a dull and bleak world, the illustrations are grey and the only colour is Cicada himself who is green with his large bulbous eyes.
For most of the book Cicada is extremely miserable. He is ignored by everyone, the company even ignore the fact that he has made his home in the office wall space as he can not afford rent. Even though he has never missed a day, works late and always gets the work done without a mistake, Cicada is treated unfairly by his colleagues. Cicada is not even allowed to use the same bathroom as his co-workers and has to use a toilet that is located down the street and every time he goes his pay is docked. This immediately brings to light issues around racism, bullying and inequality in treatment of others who are different. There is also the message to not overlook those around us who can easily be missed, the quiet ones, the different ones, the ‘grey’ ones.
After retiring, Cicada finds himself stood on the edge of the roof of the office building ready for his grand finale. But there is a twist and Cicada will have the last laugh, ultimately laughing at the humans he will leave behind. It is this moment that we see why Tan has chosen a cicada and the importance of the seventeen years of work as the link to the cicada life-cycle and the seventeen years before transformation are celebrated.
A powerful story that is sure to spark all sorts of conversations by readers both young and old.
Recommended for 10+.