The Incredible Basket book coverThe Incredible Basket’s detailed illustrations paint a stimulating story about Singapore of a bygone era but reader beware rose-tinted lenses.

  • Title: The Incredible Basket
  • Author: Quek Hong Shin
  • Illustrator: Quek Hong Shin
  • Reading level: Details currently unavailable
  • Date published: February, 2018
  • Publisher: Epigram Books
  • Country: Singapore
  • Country printed in: Details currently unavailable
  • Printing: Details currently unavailable

This is a made-in-Singapore book set in pre-ultra modern Singapore. A young Chinese boy has been tasked by his mother to deliver snacks to his grandfather. Once he gets that out of the way, he and his friends find various uses for the basket the snacks were held in.

2 things:
1. HISTORY LESSON

This book was shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards Best Children’s Picture Book 2016. Quek’s detailed illustrations paint a vast story about Singapore–if you really scrutinise the details–before it was transformed into the leading financial centre it is today. (Love the Milo tin used as a cash point!) The illustrated characters tell the histories of many Singapore families. For example, the grandfather is a letter writer who helps illiterate people. My own grandfather did similar work post-WW2. Another piece of history – when you could buy a bowl of noodles for 20 cents!

2. ROSE-TINTED LENSES, NOSTALGIA

But reader beware rose-tinted lenses, and nostalgia: If you’re intent on reading this book with kids, I’d say: Know your history for an informed discussion.

I grew up in Singapore and had its history drilled into my head throughout my school years. If you were a child in Singapore post-WW2 till around 1980, chances are you grew up in neighbourhoods with people of your own ethnic group, whether in shophouses or kampungs (villages).

So this story, with the main Chinese boy character living next to and playing with friends who appear to be Malay and Indian, is pretty much atypical and one for the story books, OR for a very unique neighbourhood. Singapore likes to paint a picture of itself as a harmonious multiethnic and multicultural society, so probably hence the choice of such friends for the main Chinese boy character.