Shortlist year: 2019

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Lothian an imprint of Hachette

'Cicada work in tall building. Data entry clerk. Seventeen year. No sick day. No mistake. Tok Tok Tok!' Cicada works in an office, dutifully toiling day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his coworkers. But one day, cicada goes to the roof of the building, and something truly extraordinary happens ... A story for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked, from Australia's most acclaimed picture book creator.

About the author

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth and graduated from the University of Western Australia with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature. He began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery. His works include The Red TreeThe Lost ThingRules of Summer and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival. All have been widely translated throughout Europe, Asia and South America, and are enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer and a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar's WALL-E and in 2011, he shared an Academy Award for his work on the animated short film based on his book, The Lost Thing. In that same year, he won the Dromkeen Medal for services to children's literature and the Astrid Lindgren prize.

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Judges’ comments

A non-human protagonist tells a very human tale of abasement and disregard in this extraordinary picture book for mature readers. Cicada is ambiguous and enigmatic. It is open-ended, thought provoking and invites multiple readings. Cicada could be an unappreciated migrant worker without friends, or could represent any displaced, overlooked person.

Incongruously, green cicada wears a grey suit, causing it at one level to blend in or disappear into its near monochromatic, sterile office surrounds. Yet it is disparaged by its similarly grey-clad human co-workers, whose faces are never revealed. Cicada is told it is not human so needs no resources. It is not allowed to use the office bathroom, it must use amenities twelve blocks away and has its pay docked for its travel time. It cannot afford to pay rent and so lives in the office wall space, with the company turning a blind eye to its needs.

Cicada speaks in broken English or a stilted dialect, reinforcing its status as the 'other'. It laments, 
'Human never finish work.
Cicada always stay late. Finish work.
Nobody thank cicada.
Tok Tok Tok!'

The repetition of 'Tok Tok Tok!' replicates the office-workers' obsession with time and clocking on and off. Corporate drudgery is also represented by the bleak surrounds and geometric, uniform maze of cubicles rendered in dramatic light and shadow. Cicada's green head contrasts with the grey patterns that surround it. Cicada is different. When it retires after seventeen years without a party or handshake, cicada ascends Escher-like stairs. When it stands at the edge of the roof the reader fears for its life and safety until becoming aware of the subtle warming change of colour tone followed by the bright red metamorphosis of cicada before it flies back to the forest, laughing at the humans left behind.

The opening endpapers hint at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and the closing endpapers celebrate the verdant natural world of the forest. The changing colour palette reflects transformation from a dire scenario of darkness, despair, depression and possibly death to metamorphosis, renewal, freedom and hope.