By SGN | 14 Jul 2023
On Stories of Food and Culture
My family lived overseas for 6 years, first moving to Sydney and then the Bay Area, California. My children were both born overseas. As I began reading to them, I found that Singaporean picture books were few and far in between. I longed for books that shared stories about Singapore, our home.
When I returned to Singapore, I tried my hand at picture book writing. Once my first title was published, I set my heart on creating stories about Singapore. And amazingly, opportunities came my way.
Now, all my titles are about Singapore. It brings me immense joy when I see kids enjoy my stories – especially when they recognise the places in the books or they resonate with the experiences shared. It affirms them, and it forms their identity as children of Singapore.
My latest book, Sing A Song of Hawker Food, was co-authored with Janice Khoo and written during the pandemic – right after Singapore’s hawker culture was added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage items. We really wanted to encourage children to treasure our unique hawker culture and pay tribute to hardworking hawkers who create delicious and affordable food for us.
I’ve also developed a felt food toy business with my mother, Heartfelt Makan, which features felt replicas of Singapore hawker food!
Sing a Song of Hawker Food
Celebrating Singapore’s rich history
When I was a university student, I had the privilege of spending six months abroad as an exchange student at the University of Manchester in 2008. I extended this stint to pursue my master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 2010.
My experiences abroad broadened my perspectives greatly. Not only did I gain opportunities to practise my German by visiting cities like Berlin, Munich and Vienna, I also became deeply fascinated with studying European history, like British imperialism, the World Wars, and the Cold War.
Above all, my time abroad strengthened my sense of identity as a Singaporean. As much as I appreciated European history, English literature and writing, I came to realise that my true passion lay in my home country—Singapore. I wanted to contribute a local voice to discussions on Singapore.
For my LSE Master’s dissertation, I focused on Singapore’s economic history during British colonial times, writing about the Straits Chinese pioneers. As I am descended from an 19th century Teochew immigrant, I also focused some discussion on my family.
This experience sparked a desire to delve deeper into local history. Starting with stories of my family, I expanded my remit to explore stories of other families with my children’s book series, Our Amazing Pioneers. I hope to make Singapore’s rich history more accessible to young Singaporeans, so that they can learn about our past, where we came from, and who we are as one people.
Our Amazing Pioneers
Take a journey with the Singapore River
As a children’s book illustrator, I loved watercolours and bringing stories to life. But when I was challenged by my husband to write my own children’s book instead of merely illustrating for others, I reflexively responded, “no”!
But that thought seeded an expected desire to write the kind of book I would like my kids to read. Mustering my courage, I took a leap of faith and immediately felt the urge to write an inspirational environmental story.
My parents immigrated to Australia from Singapore before I was born, and I had grown up loving the outdoors and the environment. Now, living in urban Singapore with my children, I found it challenging to foster the same love and concern for the environment in them.
When I stumbled upon the Singapore River Clean-up story, I was simply blown-away by how big the problem was and the lengths to which Singapore went to restore the once-polluted river to its glory. 10 long years just to clean up its rivers. It was such an inspirational story that I knew I just had to write about it.
Taking literary liberty, I imagined a time when the river started off clean, journeyed through dark days when it was mistreated, before ending with a triumphant redemption. Through personifying the river, I hope its voice continues to echo in the hearts of young readers. Let’s help keep our waterways clean!
River That Brings Us Life