Ming loves to draw his inventions, but he doesn’t have any money to bring them to life. Then he hits on a creative solution: to collect the things his neighbours no longer want or need!
What is a Karung Guni Boy, I wondered, as I worked my way through a feature on picture books from Singapore a few months ago. Eric Wong’s unique artwork also drew me towards this book – the unusual cardboard cut-out characters and the use of different materials to compose each scene. Especially the thick corrugated cardboard that is featured throughout.
Wong’s collages provide the perfect accompaniment for the text, which is all about creativity. Karung Guni Boy is otherwise known as Ming, a young boy who loves to invent things, or at least draw the things he would like to create, including floating handkerchiefs and edible chopsticks (my personal favourite). Only he doesn’t have the money to bring his inventions to life. When he does try to earn some cash, it ends in failure.
Fortunately, Ming hits on a wonderfully original solution when he hears a ‘beep beep beep’ outside his bedroom window. It’s the Karung Guni man, a traditional rag-and-bone man in Singapore as we learn in the back matter. Ming realises that he too can collect things people no longer need. So, he becomes Karung Guni Boy and goes door to door, coming back with all sorts of stuff – wooden stools, rusty fans, dentures – from his neighbours. All for free! Then he busies himself with his first creation while everyone waits in eager anticipation. Including you, because I won’t ruin the surprise here!!
This is a carefully crafted story. Lorraine Tan’s text is clear and concise with a lovely smattering of interesting adjectives. In terms of story, a problem arises, a solution is found and there’s just the right amount of suspense to keep you guessing until the end. I’ve already touched on Eric Wong’s distinctive artwork – you can check out the care that went into composing each scene in this gallery.
I love the creativity that flows through this story and am sure that it will inspire readers, both young and old, to get crafty. And not to let minor setbacks prevent them from achieving their aims.
Karung Guni Boy by Lorraine Tan, illustrated by Eric Wong (Epigram Books, 2016)
Lorraine Tan is a lecturer at the School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore. She has previously written two children’s books, Pip’s Garden and Origami Girl.
Eric Wong is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Singapore. He focuses on creating work that is both witty and aesthetically pleasing, and is continually challenging his limits.
Karung Guni Boy was shortlisted for the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award 2018.