Kampung Boy

19 Oct

Night was falling and I lighted up the lamps

We first came across Lat, the kampung boy of the title, in a dark, wood panelled, colonial era bar in Kuala Lumpur, that is little changed since the days when rubber plantation managers made the long trip from the jungle for their famous sizzling steaks.  We’d had a hot and unsuccessful morning spent in bus stations then trying to find the public pool only to discover after walking for a sweltering mile that it was closed.  We decided to cut our losses and got a taxi to the bar where we got some relief from the heat with iced lime sodas under whirring fans.  All around us on the panelled walls were quirky, framed, black and white strip cartoons, many of them featuring the bar we were in.  We asked about the cartoonist and were told that he was a Malaysian national treasure, so feeling revived, we set off for the nearest bookshop and discovered Kampung Boy.

Kampung means village in Malaysian, and the book is the story of ‘ in a jungle village.  It is a beautifully drawn hymn to the joys of childhood, with tales of swimming in rivers, collecting rubber bands and kite flying with friends.  It is full of gentle little jokes about sneaking up on big sisters and the effects of eating too much durian fruit.

We bought the book as a souvenir of our Malaysian holiday and the energetic pen and ink drawings are full of little details about life in the jungle, how they cook, wash, play and worship.  It’s a great introduction to the country and written with obvious affection for a changing world. 

It’s also a lovely book to read with children with detailed instructions for constructing kites, playing with marbles and spinning tops and making pop guns from a length of bamboo.  There are funny stories of Lat and his friends getting into trouble in a myriad of ways from weapons misfired to injuries sustained while fishing.  Some of the stories seem very exotic to my children, such as learning to pray at Koran school or eating boiled banana for breakfast, others more familiar like playing hopscotch and doing homework.

Lat and his family moved to the town of Ipoh when he was ten, and Town Boy describes growing up in a small town in a similarly delightful way.  Malaysia may have changed a lot since the 1960’s, but it was still easy for us to recognise the streetscape from his drawings of Chinese shophouses and coffee shops, making it a great travel companion.

Kampung boy is one of my favourite books in the world.  It’s beautiful evocation of childhood is a reminder that all children need to be happy are regular meals, a loving family, some rubber bands, marbles and  friends to play with, and the odd ice cream.

Kid Friendly Travel Blog on Raveable


One Response to “Kampung Boy”

  1. angelsandurchinsblog 20/10/2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Love the idea of a book that children can look at before a travel (or while travelling) to really help cement memories in their minds, or help them imagine what it’s going to be like. Swiss Family Robinson, Pippi Longstocking etc, but I haven’t come across something like this before. If you find other books/illustrations, please post – even though boiled bananas sound as though they’d become soup!

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