Singaporean food and fiction come alive in Fanny Lai’s books for kids

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Growing up in multi-cultural country enriched Fanny Lai, Singaporean author of children books. Discover how she translates her experience as a Singaporean parent into her beautiful comic illustrations for children.

Fanny Lai Singaporean author

Food binds the Singapore community – even our young ones!

Over the last 50 years, this little red dot that we call  home has developed and evolved in countless ways.

As Singaporeans, we are fortunate to live in a safe city and to bear witness to how the country has grown into a beautiful sanctuary of diverse cultures and traditions.

We had an exclusive chance to reach out to a Singaporean author who draws and writes about our local heritage in a bid to share special roots, values, and stories close to the hearts of the country’s youth.

We caught up with Ms. Fanny Lai, comic illustrator and author of  Nini Eat First, Talk Later, one of the 74 projects supported by the Singapore Memory Project’s irememberSG Fund. Created for children aged 10 and below, her cookbook-inspired novel aims to bring back the memories of Singapore’s food heritage, triggering interest in preserving this piece of our culture whilst inspiring readers to treasure each dining experience with their loved ones.

Nini Eat First, Talk Later is a sequel to the book Nini in Changi Village, which was selected as a must-read for young readers by the National Library Board’s annual ‘READ! Fest’ event and was later adapted into a play by Theatre Practice in 2014.

How’s that for someone who threw herself into writing after her retirement despite no formal training in illustration?

Fanny also shares her quirky experiences and observations in the form of weekly comics, Nini and Polahand is currently busy with her “wild” hobby as well as penning new books. Read on to find out what’s up her sleeve these days.

What inspired you to write books revolving around Singapore’s culture and heritage?
I grew up in Changi Village in the ’60s with lots of fond memories of village life, experiences of a simple lifestyle, and valued relationships with people and the environment that I would like to share with young readers before it is too late.

Fanny Lai Singaporean author

Which is your favourite curry puff or kali pok??

What led you to delve into writing children’s books and, in particular, in Mandarin?
I love the beauty of the Chinese language, especially when illustrating Singapore’s dining heritage and the name of traditional foods with rich Chinese roots blended with Malay, Indian, Eurasian, and Peranakan flavours. For example, I have a chapter talking about “Kueh,” its history and variety. I hope that this light-hearted graphic novel not only encourages young readers to appreciate local cuisine but also to use our mother tongue more.

How much of the stories are drawn from your own experiences as a child/parent or from your children?
It is a melting pot of personal experiences and stories from friends, garnished with imagination.

After coming up with your own Singaporean works, what were the takeaway or eureka moments you had with respect to how Singapore evolved in the last 50 years?
In just 50 years, our family values, structure, roles, beliefs, attitudes, ideals, and aspirations have shifted with a heavier emphasis on wealth creation and economic achievement. Now that we have “arrived,” we should refocus on attaining better social values and preserving our heritage.

Read on to find out what inspired Fanny Lai to write this particular kids book about Singapore’s food heritage.

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