Picture book invites young readers to wander through KL's bustling streets


In 'Somewhere In The Kuala', young adventurers Han and Mina take readers on a playful journey away from the ‘grown up’ tour their parents brought them to in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Suburbia Projects

For those of us who live or work in Kuala Lumpur, how many of us have actually taken the time to explore the city beyond the highlights and usual haunts?

In Somewhere In The Kuala, an illustrated children’s book published by independent outfit Suburbia Projects, you get to follow the adventures of Han and Mina as they traverse the bustling concrete jungle on their own.

Produced by illustrator Lisa Goh and lecturer/freelance designer William Chew, the book (a recipient of the Think City - PNB 118 Merdeka Grants Programme), interestingly enough, has no dialogue in it.

Instead, readers get to follow the sisters on a visual journey as they try to return home after being separated from their parents while on a tour in KL. Along the way, they make colourful new friends, visit key historical landmarks and discovery eateries, as well as lively arts and culture hubs.

For this upcoming school holiday season, Somewhere In The Kuala serves as perfect guidebook for parents who want their young children to discover parts of the capital city that might not be so popularly known.

Goh and Chew, both 28, say that that the idea for the book was inspired by their love of walking in cities, a habit picked up during their time in university and working in London.

Join Han and Mina on their whimsical journey as they explore the messy and lively concrete jungle, find a new eating spot and make new friends along the way.  Photo: AIMAN MJJoin Han and Mina on their whimsical journey as they explore the messy and lively concrete jungle, find a new eating spot and make new friends along the way. Photo: AIMAN MJ

“We like the spontaneity and chance encounters of our walks, as our lives are mostly screen and algorithm-based now,” says Chew, who is currently teaching (interior architecture) at the Malaysian Institute of Art in KL.

“Navigating the city on foot also gives us a chance to explore the city at a slower pace, and it feels like a playground for grown-ups, as we can take the time to immerse ourselves in the spaces between buildings.

“So, based on that, we wanted to introduce this experience to a wider audience.”

For curious wanderers

In the book, Han and Mina drop by iconic locations both old and new – as well as newly refurbished – such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Pasar Seni, Zhongshan Building, Rex KL and Merdeka 118 Tower.

While adults may view these sights as something ordinary, through the book, we get to see them with the child-like wonder and whimsy of Han and Mina’s points of view.

But it wasn’t easy to put themselves into the shoes of a child.

“We wanted the story to be an adventure of getting to know the city from a kid’s perspective. To do this, we first needed to feel the space and get a sense of the lives of people in each area,” shares Goh, who runs an illustration studio called Ke Ai De Ke.

The creative duo Chew (left) and Goh are behind the book 'Somewhere In The Kuala', published by Suburbia Projects. Photo: Aiman MJThe creative duo Chew (left) and Goh are behind the book 'Somewhere In The Kuala', published by Suburbia Projects. Photo: Aiman MJ

“Then we looked deep within ourselves and channelled our inner child, thinking back to all those things we missed out on when sitting in the tuition centre.”

Another reason for making the book was as a way to advocate for a better KL, especially when it comes to navigating around the city.

“We understand that our city is not perfect. So through the book, we highlighted the fact that KL is a car-centric city, and that it is difficult and often dangerous to walk around.

“We depicted junctions where it is particularly challenging to navigate, car or not – if you are in the car, you get stuck in a traffic jam; if you’re not in the car, you will risk your life crossing it,” says Chew.

He adds, “To counter car-centrism, we showed the kids using various forms of transport modes, such as the LRT, bus, walking and cycling to get from one place to another, so the places featured in the book tend to be closer to public transport.”

Going beyond words

So why doesn’t the book have any dialogue?

“We believe in everyone’s ability to have a creative interpretation of our book, so each reader will have their own story, and we hope that this slight difference is a way for parents and their kids to have conversations, rather than sticking to one storyline. It is a chance for kids to develop their own opinions as well,” explains Goh.

Without dialogue in the book, the young artist duo feel that it also helps overcome any language barriers, so the book is accessible to all language speakers, even beyond Malaysia. Photo: Aiman MJWithout dialogue in the book, the young artist duo feel that it also helps overcome any language barriers, so the book is accessible to all language speakers, even beyond Malaysia. Photo: Aiman MJ

The young artist duo added that it also helps overcome any language barriers, so the book is accessible to all language speakers, even beyond Malaysia.

“You will also notice that there are no age recommendations because each age group will see something different,” says Goh.

“Kids will say the wackiest things and that’s something we like to hear more of.”

Best of all, each book comes with a lovely pull-out map of all the places Han and Mina went to.

“We hope that by sharing our views of the city to a younger audience, they are encouraged to visit the city and create their own memories of it,” concludes Chew.

Somewhere In The Kuala is available in all good bookstores. More info here.

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