My daughter and I worked our way through Tales from Outer Suburbia thanks to a recommendation from Kristen. I’m very sad to have to take all of these stories back to the library!
At first, we didn’t get “The Water Buffalo” at all. We read it several times and then one, night, I had a dream and woke up realizing that the water buffalo is the wilderness that still exists in suburbia.
The water buffalo lives in the vacant lot at the end of a suburban street – the lot with all of the grass growing on it. If a kid would ask the water buffalo for advice, the buffalo would answer, but only by pointing in a particular direction. He offered no particulars. The older the suburban kids became, the more they wanted the particulars, and so they quit visiting the buffalo. The water buffalo eventually left. Which was ashame, really, because every time the kids did follow the buffalo’s advice, they were surprised and delighted with what they found.
Here you are in suburbia, where everything is always explained in detail. No mystery is left unsolved. And if you do happen upon a mystery, there are plenty of anti-anxiety meds available to help you steer clear from the anxiety of the unknown. The water buffalo, for me, represents the wilderness of subconscious knowing. It’s that part of us that can be trusted, but that we tend to disregard because it doesn’t provide the security modern life demands.
Or imagine the government has asked you to keep a missile in your back yard and tells you to be alert, but not alarmed. These rockets take up huge amounts of your back yard. Is it any wonder that kids turn them into play houses, birds into bird houses and that adults decorate them? Of course, these alterations to the rockets may render them useless. But how useful are they in the first place?
Or what if you took the idea of the standard holiday where people are given the gifts they want and turned it into a holiday, a nameless one, where people sacrifice the things they love?
Amazon says this book is for preschool and elementary school aged children. While young children might enjoy these stories, I have a difficult time thinking they would understand them. The Tales from Outer Suburbia are clearly for teens and adults who at least have some literary and political savvy.
Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia. He claims Ray Bradbury was his favorite author in his pre-teen years. That was true for me, too. I was constantly getting caught reading Bradbury stories under my desk. My mother caught me with I Sing the Body Electric under my covers, and thought it was a dirty book. I got in tons of trouble for reading Bradbury!
These sorts of tales (fantasy) are among my all-time favorite. Now 9th graders are forced to read Bradbury so sneaking him under you desk is no longer as necessary. I wonder how many kids read Tan on the sly?