Recycled objects bring story to life

Stuff picked from streets are transformed into art for Lorraine Tan and Eric Wong's picture book about a young inventor

Stray leaves and water bottle caps picked off the streets. Cardboard boxes, fruit wrappers and medicine packaging collected from friends.

These are some of the unlikely objects that have been transformed into art for Lorraine Tan and Eric Wong's charming picture book Karung Guni Boy, published by Epigram Books.

The book is about Ming, a boy inventor who goes door to door to collect old items from his neighbours for his ambitious creations.

The story is told in a series of beautiful pictures and landscapes made by illustrator Wong from recycled materials. Every scene is a collage using cardboard, plastic bottles and other kinds of discarded packaging.

For example, capsule toy covers and bottle caps make up part of a robot, fruit wrappers serve as foliage for tiny trees, the iconic dragon-shaped playground was crafted out of cardboard, and the headlights of a cardboard car are made out of medicine packaging.

After Wong built these collages and dioramas, the book's designer Eng Chun Pang photographed them.

Illustrator Eric Wong (above and left) getting the sets ready to be photographed for Karung Guni Boy.
Karung Guni Boy by Lorraine Tan & Eric Wong

Wong, 42, is creative director of magazine publisher Regent Media and an old hand at digital illustration. Making hands-on, craft-heavy three-dimensional work was new for him.

He spent a year working on the project, creating the storyboard in line with Tan's text and then building the 16 sets featured in the book.

After the sets were photographed, they edited the pictures as little as possible.

"We just had to hide all the unnecessary stuff, such as the wires we used, in the photos," he says.

He is married with no children.

Wong helped bring to life a story that writer Tan, a lecturer for the arts business management course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, had first sent in to Epigram Books in 2013.

Then, she had the idea of using paper dioramas to illustrate her story, as she loved making papercut art.

"I showed my editorial team some prototypes I'd created and they recommended Eric," she says. "When I saw his artwork, I knew that he was the one and the rest is history, as they say."

Karung Guni Boy is about me, as much as it is about everyone else out there who loves making things.

LORRAINE TAN, author of Karung Guni Boy

Tan, who is in her 30s, used to collect curios and random knick- knacks for her own creations.

She says: "So Karung Guni Boy is about me, as much as it is about everyone else out there who loves making things."

She adds: "The story is intended to encourage anyone who's ever felt that they didn't have the resources - be it money or otherwise - to complete a dream.

"The heart of the story is really about self-belief and the tenacity to pull through even when the odds look stacked against you."

This is her third children's book. Her first, Pip's Garden, won the 2009 First-Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative by the Media Development Authority and the National Book Development Council of Singapore.

Her second, Origami Girl, was Singapore first prize winner for the Daekyo Eye Level Children's Literature Award in 2013.

Karung Guni Boy has won both Tan and Wong fans.

Tan, who is married with no children, says readers have told her that they enjoy the "unique local flavour" of her Karung Guni character, the theme of recycling and the unique artwork.

Parents have approached Wong to tell him the book inspired them to do handicraft with their children - with some asking if he would be open to the idea of hosting craft classes.

He has kept all the props he created for the book.

"I find it a bit wasteful if these props are just meant for the book. I have plans for them, maybe setting up a mini-exhibition or even doing a stop motion movie with them," he says.

"Hopefully, things work out and you guys can see more of Karung Guni Boy soon."

• Karung Guni Boy is available at $14.90 from

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Recycled objects bring story to life'. Print Edition | Subscribe