Review in 8/1/06 issue of Kirkus
In a charming story of a young boy's life, Lat recounts his childhood living in a small village (or kampung) in Malaysia. Beginning in his infancy, the reader experiences Lat's life up to his later boyhood, when he leaves his family and familiarity to attend boarding school. In addition to sharing his memories, Lat pays close attention to the social mores and nuances of his culture, offering the reader a glimpse into a foreign life. A sweetly naturalistic memoir, this non-traditional graphic novel breaks free of the conventional boxy panel layout to richly extend the black and white illustrations over the pages, with most pages containing a single scene. The art is highly detailed, letting the reader linger over each page, enjoying the feel of experiencing life in another country. Besides offering up a smart cohesion of careful text with meticulous illustration, Lat offers his readers a unique perspective in his scenes; when drawing himself as a young boy, his settings are oversized and exaggerated, showing the reader that even in a small kampung, life can still loom large for a child. Intriguing and edifying, Lat's memoir is an endearing look at a foreign adolescence. (Graphic novel. YA)
Review in 8/7/06 Publisher's Weekly
Malaysian comics creator Lat makes his American debut with this down-to-earth account of childhood in a Southeast Asian kampung, or village. His black-and-white text resembles a chronological sketchbook, with stilt-houses and jungle plants inked on each page, and handwritten text explaining events and customs. Impatient readers might wish for a glossary or map: "I was born in a kampung in the heart of the world's largest tin-mining district-the Kinta Valley in Perak," says the narrator, and leaves it at that. But most will enjoy the protagonist's casual chronicle of rites of passage such as a hair-shaving ceremony ("adat cukur kepala"), lessons in the Koran at age six, the Bersunat (circumcision) ceremony at age 10, and a trip to the movies circa 1960. From the window of his house, he sees a rubber plantation and hears the "distant roaring sound... of a tin dredge." Later, Constable Mat Saman, a Barney Fife-like zealot toting an automatic rifle, chases villagers who pan the river for saleable tin scraps. Lat's adults have narrow chests and slouch pelvis-first, while mischievous children canoe, dive and fish in the river. This first in a projected series ends on a to-be-continued note, with the narrator leaving for boarding school and already homesick for the kampung. Lat's loose, laid-back stories of Muslim family life and school should appeal to Marjane Satrapi fans; with humor and affection, Lat makes the exotic kampung feel familiar. All ages. (Sept.)
Review in 9/1/06 Booklist
Malaysian cartoonist Lat uses the graphic novel format to share the story of his childhood in a small village, or kampung. From his birth and adventures as a toddler to the enlargements of his world as he attends classes in the village, makes friends, and, finally, departs for a prestigious city boarding school, this autobiography is warm, authentic, and wholly engaging. Lat depicts small children-including himself-as mostly mop-topped, toothy, bare-bottomed or sarong-draped-while the important adults in his life appear in billowing trousers or dramatic spectacles. Everything is wonderfully detailed in his scribbly black-and-white sketches; each page is crammed with heavy inked action scenes, which are explained in simple but eloquent prose. Some passages recall past behavior; others focus on cultural events and surroundings-a wedding, a rubber plantation, Lat's circumcision ("It took place on a banana trunk. In two minutes it was over...just like an ant bite!"). Filled with humor and affection, the book is a delight; readers will enjoy it not only as an introduction to a well-known Southeast Asian artist but also a story of boyhood that encompasses both universals and the specifics of a time and place.
Review in 9/1/06 VOYA
This outstanding graphic novel chronicles the early adventures of Mat, a conventional Muslim boy, and his family and friends. Mat is an exuberant and expressive character much adored by his affectionate family and the often-hilarious villagers. His high-spirited escapades with his friends, his sober religious education with the cane-wielding Tuan Syed, the moderate and sometimes scary customs of daily life, his maturation and occasional trouble at home, and eventually his eye-opening life at boarding school all portray a traditional life that has since nearly vanished. Lat reminds readers on every page of the energy and delight of childhood. The book breathes life into the themes of loyalty, ecology, family values, and societal customs. It pits the fading rural traditions of the Malaysian jungle village dependent upon rubber and agriculture in the 1950s against the quickly developing outside world.
Mohammad Nor Khalid is a well known, beloved, and celebrated Malaysian cartoonist also known simply at Lat. He began his drawing career at age nine, was first published at thirteen, and in 1979 released his first autobiography in Malaysia, Kampung Boy. In 1994 he received the prestigious Malaysian honorific title Datuk. His gifted graphics, which are the embodiment of simplicity and innocent charm, are revealed in this first U.S. release. The original and exceptional artwork is sweet, playful, expressive, and energetically animated. It is a delightfully fun read, and it would be a welcome addition to any young adult collection. —Ava Ehde
Starred Review in November 2006 issue of Library Journal
Kampung Boy is a pleasure to read. It follows the early life of a Muslim boy growing up in a tiny town in Malaysia during the 1950s. Incidents are well chosen and illuminating, including the rituals surrounding birth, the solidity and pride of family, the joy of skinny-dipping, and the fanfare of a traditional circumcision ceremony. All are handled tastefully and with nostalgic reverence. Illustrations are simple, yet emotionally expressive and charming. As engaging as any travelogue, the book uses universal themes to connect readers to a time and place that may very well no longer exist, but sincere reflection and honest details will draw them into this other world and win their hearts. American audiences are lucky to finally receive this international classic.— Dawn Rutherford, King County Library System, Bellevue, WA.
Starred Review in the January 2007 issue of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The author-illustrator of this title has long been a cause celebre in Southeast Asia; Kampung Boy, his memoir of his youth in a small Malaysian village, was first published there in 1979. And while it's been imported to a multitude of countries since then, its appearance in this edition marks Lat's first American publication. It's been worth the wait: this is a lively and engrossing tale of an everyday life vastly different from those most American kids experience.
Lat grows up in a cool and airy house on stilts in a rural area of Western Malaysia's Kinta Valley, the world's most productive tin-mining region. Here rubber smallholdings provide income for family members, grownups whiz around importantly on bicycles (brand names as lovingly treasured as the names of car models) while the only train is a blur that "never stopped at our kampung," and students pay the schoolteacher whatever they have to offer (some give him fifty cents or a dollar, others give him a plate of rice or sugar, some provide him with firewood they've picked up on their way to class). The village follows Indonesian and Muslim tradition: Lat's birth (at which his grandmother was midwife, recompensed with a roast chicken, a plate of yellow rice, and batik sarong) is followed by his ritual hair-shaving ceremony on the forty-fifth day (which involves what looks to be a very lulling rocking in a hammock), and he resignedly undergoes circumcision at the age of nine. The first-person narration, appearing in a font emulating hand lettering, has an easygoing, comradely tone, and it's filled with understated affection for family, neighbors, and village life. Lat's a master at making the story itself involving even as he weaves it into a visually dependent narrative, so it's interesting to hear about his mother stuffing him with porridge even as the art shows a spiky-haired baby spitting the food back out with a decisive "ptooi!" Context clarifies many unfamiliar elements—even if kids don't know exactly what a tin dredge is, they'll understand huge local machinery that seems monstrous to little kids—and the story has a warm assumption of insider status and an emphasis on universally understandable experiences (horsing around with friends, evading authority) that makes it a more intimately involving tale than those that carefully explain their daily realities to distant readers.
The black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations are, if you'll pardon the pun, the real draw; though the format isn't graphic-novel-styled panels, the single-page scenes vividly and comedically portray Lat's life. The kampung is a cheerful place of people hanging out in the tea stalls or checking out passersby from the open doorways of their stilt-legged houses, and the occasional caption helps identify key people or elements; a compact tree stump with a wild thatch of dark hair, young Lat is often exaggeratedly dwarfed by a confusing adult world or followed by motion lines as he darts through the countryside (sometimes happily butt naked).
The district apparently has changed considerably since Lat's youth; like Robert Peck's or Gary Paulsen's tales of youthful rural hijinks, this book describes a life that is all the more attractive for its disappearance. And as in so many idylls of country innocence, the protagonist himself must leave this world behind, in this case in a mixture of excitement and regret as he departs for boarding school with his grandmother's words ringing in his ears: "Be humble because we are a humble people. Always remember God and don't forget about us back here in the kampung."
The book's audience not only won't forget, they'll wish for more (perhaps the second installment of this autobiography, Town Boy, will arrive on these shores soon). This companionable chronicle achieves that rare thing in an international title: making readers feel like they're hanging out with a friend halfway around the world.
The Michigan Reading Journal
Review in the Spring 2007 issue of the Michigan Reading Journal
Lat is a superstar in Asia where his artwork is collected avidly. This is his introduction into the United States but we will surely see more of his books in the future. Kampung (village) Boy is set in the 1950s as we follow a Muslim boy through his daily life. Technology has just begun to make demands and production pressures may mark the end of an era for this kampung — an era that shows us haircutting rituals, religious traditions, and even circumcision in a tasteful, laid back style that matches the time and the place perfectly. This is one of the few books that feature historical details about Muslims in an easily approachable style. Recommended for all middle school libraries and high school readers who appreciate fine graphic novels.
Review in 9/1/06 KLIATT
Kampung Boy relates the early childhood or Mat, a boy who grows up in a small village (called a kampung) in rural Malaysia. Mat attends Tuan Syed Amen's Koran reading class, fishes and swims with his friends, and goes dulang-washing at the back of a tin dredge. When he shows his family the tin he's panned, his father thrashes him for thievery. The biggest event of Mat's childhood is his circumcision ceremony, which takes place when he is ten years old. Mat is dressed in traditional garb, attends a huge feast (the entire kampung is invited), led to the river for a dip, and then circumcised on a banana trunk. In order to inherit his father's rubber plantation, Mat must do well in his studies: Kampung Boy ends when he leaves for boarding school.
This is the type of graphic novel librarians will love; I enjoyed the many interesting details of growing up in a Muslim family. Younger readers will like Lat's cartoon-y style, which emphasizes facial features and movements; the art reminds me of Matt Groening (who has a blurb on the cover). Kampung Boy contains cartoon nudity (no genitals) and his recommended for junior high and high school collections.