Children’s Book Review: ‘The Dumpster Diver’

The Dumpster Diver by Janet S. Wong, Illustrated by David Roberts

It’s great that someone wrote a children’s book about dumpster diving. Everyone and their daughter is a dumpster diver these days. Lately I’ve heard hip friends to affluent mothers proclaim their love of dumpster diving. It’s no longer an admission – it’s a badge of honor.

In this fantastically illustrated, adventure-narrated storybook, three kids in an apartment complex play intermediary roles to a kooky neighbor’s passion for dumpster diving. Their jobs? They’re the Diving Team: Two hold a hose, and the third controls the water spigot (the ‘Fauceteer’). Neighbor Steve dons a waterproof suit with goggles, then goes head over heels into dumpsters, where millions of bugs rapidly flee his presence. He emerges covered in gook and dirt with his arms full of loot. The kids are in charge of hosing him (and the newfound treasure) down.

From my experience, dumpster diving isn’t as dirty an endeavor as this. While dumpsters themselves might be dirty, the contents of them often aren’t. Great trash can be big pieces of stuff – furniture, wood, or other items that won’t be in bags or otherwise tainted by their surroundings. These things can be swiftly and deftly picked out of the rubble pretty easily and without much fuss or scum. Then again, I’ve never been dumpster diving in New York City, where this book seems to takes place.

The ingenuity displayed by the kids in the “The Dumpster Diver” is remarkable. Showcasing their imaginations and inventiveness, the children come up with many potential projects for each article they find. Thursday is trash day, and the kids spend their weekends crafting new, crazy toys that they make out of the cool stuff they find. An old blender becomes a lamp. An old lamp becomes a table. “What should we turn this into?” is the prized sentiment. What an awesome lesson for kids!

There is a naysaying neighbor – a crotchety old lady who criticizes Steve, saying that ‘good’ people ‘buy new things.’ Steve is so laid back that he doesn’t even care! He proudly replies that his apartment may be full of junk, but, hey! I like junk! Junk’s cool!

To the naysayer’s satisfaction, Steve gets hurt while dumpster diving, and the kids vow not to do it anymore. Instead, they go door-to-door before the stuff hits the curb, asking neighbors for their unwanted goods. They make a wheelchair for their maimed friend out of some of what they collect.

I didn’t like that the book portrays dumpster diving as something dangerous enough to get so cut up that you need a wheelchair to get around, but I did enjoy the author’s idea that the kids decide to make the experience more humanized by cutting out the middle man and directly going around asking their neighbors for unwanted items.

This book sensationalizes and fictionalizes the process of dumpster diving a bit to grasp small attention spans. And, hey, it’s a kid’s book. But the point of the book – that there’s a lot of potential in things other people have since discarded (aka ‘one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’) is articulate and heartwarming.

(From the publisher: http://www.janetwong.com/books/dumpster.cfm)



  jessicalouize wrote @

or how about a children’s book with a message that every time we buy something new it will inevitably end up in a landfill and there really are few reasons to have to buy new things all the time– re-use, re-use, re-use!!!! i bet there’s a lot of money in the “indie kids” market for books… I should look into that.

  clickclackgorilla wrote @

Woot woot. And a link to what I wrote about it once upon a time while I’m here… http://www.clickclackgorilla.com/2011/01/11/the-dumpster-diver-by-janet-s-wong/ I had the same issues with Steve getting so maimed by the dumpster that he needed a wheel chair, but otherwise, what an awesome book.


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