Author Shares Passion for Inclusive Children’s Books and Asian Food Toys

Chinese felt play food and book about Singaporean Hawker food

My children love to play with Heartfelt Makan’s beautiful food toys, which give them a taste of Asian culture. Coincidentally, last year, I bought a few children’s books by author Lianne Ong and realized that she’s the co-founder of Heart Felt Makan!

Recently, Lianne gifted her latest children’s books to us. These meaningful, reality-based stories feature people with special needs – a topic that families of all abilities should read about.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Liane and learning about her faith-fueled author journey. Her two series “Stacey and the Museums” and “A Place for Us” celebrate diversity and encourage inclusion.

Lianne also explains the process of working with her mother to create high-quality, Asian felt food toys.

Keep reading to learn more about Lianne’s inspiring experience!

Lianne Ong, Singaporean author and owner of HeartFelt Makan Felt Play Food Toys

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Tell us about yourself, your family, and business!

Hello! My name is Lianne Ong, and I am a children’s author from Singapore.

I run a felt food craft business with my mother, Janet, called Heartfelt Makan.

“Makan” is Malay for food or eat, a common word we use here in Singapore and Malaysia.

Growing up in Singapore, what was your experience with Chinese language and Asian culture?

In Singapore, it is compulsory to learn English and our Mother Tongue. So if you’re ethnically Malay, you learn the Malay language. If you’re ethnically Chinese, you learn Chinese.

My family doesn’t speak Chinese at home, because my parents grew up in colonial Singapore, when English and Malay were the languages taught in school (Singapore used to be part of the Malayan Federation).

So I struggled with the Chinese language. I tried to ensure my children had a lot of Chinese input since they were infants, so that they wouldn’t struggle with the language like I did!

Lianne Ong's mother creating Asian felt food toys for Heart Felt Makan
Lianne Ong’s mother creating Asian felt food toys for Heart Felt Makan

My children love your felt Chinese food toys! What inspired you to start Heartfelt Makan with your mom?

I thought it was rather strange that while we encourage our children to appreciate our Asian food heritage and history, yet all our toys are imported and not reflective of our local culture at all.

Toy kitchen play foods are mostly Western foods, whether they are wooden or plastic. I couldn’t find any local or Asian play foods for my kids when they were younger.

Heartfelt Makan began when my mom sewed some felt dim sum toys for my daughter. My friends saw them and thought they were so cute, so I would gift them to my friends.

I started posting about it on social media, and when orders started to come in, it became more practical to set up a proper online store.

We hope in some small way, we are preserving our food heritage through the next generation.

Singaporean chicken rice felt play food from Heart Felt Makan
Hainanese chicken rice felt play food from Heart Felt Makan

Why felt rather than plastic or wood for the Asian play food?

With felt, we can incorporate a lot of detail into the food.

For example, you can squeeze a felt “lime”, but not a wooden or plastic one.

You can have “noodles” with fabric and use chopsticks to pick them up, but not with wood or plastic.

So there’s a lot of versatility and possibilities that felt and fabric allow.

What is the process behind each felt Asian food toy?

When we design a new product, we do some research to find out how the food is presented and whether it can be replicated in felt or other fabrics.

Then a template is designed, and materials are sourced. We sew a prototype, and see if we need to adjust the template.

My mom documents the procedures of how each item is sewn, from the threads to the stitches used. She also weighs it for consistency.

But it’s ultimately a handmade product, so there will be minor variations.

Satay play food set from Heart Felt Makan
Satay play food set from Heart Felt Makan

Which of the Asian felt foods are your family’s favorites?

Chicken Rice, a much loved hawker dish in Singapore, is one of our favourites.

Satay is also a favourite because it looks so realistic!

When did you know you would become a children’s author? What inspired you to write stories for kids?

I didn’t intentionally become a children’s author. I was doing some freelance writing, as a way to vary my day as a stay-at-home-mom.

When we were living overseas, I recorded an incident my son had with a caterpillar he had brought home from school. This story was to become Maxilla, my first picture book.

I was introduced to a publisher, and to my surprise, they were keen to publish it! That opened the door to more opportunities.

Today, I find the role fulfilling, being able to write for children and to meet them at storytelling sessions.

Maxilla by Singaporean author Liane Ong. What happens when Reuben finds a caterpillar in the school garden and takes it home? A heartwarming story about learning to let go and respecting nature. Ages 4-8 years old.

Tell us about your children’s books. What are they about and what ages are they geared toward?

I have 13 published picture books to date. Usually my readers are children aged 4-8.

I am probably best known for a series about a girl named Stacey, who has an adventure every time she visits a museum in Singapore.

My newest series, A Place for Us, was commissioned by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and the objective of the series was to create more awareness about the intellectually disabled and special needs community.

Hopefully, this educates people and changes mindsets to be more socially inclusive.

I hope parents also find it as a useful conversation starter with their kids about people with special needs.

Stacey Goes to the Museum available on Amazon

How long does it take to draft a story?

I’ve realised that I cannot start writing until I have done research and I know what the plot is going to be, more or less.

I spend a lot of time procrastinating but I really have the plot brewing in my head. When I’m ready, I write it all out.

It then goes through a few iterations. My editor and fellow author friends in my writer’s group give me invaluable feedback and suggestions.

We love the realistic illustrations! How did you choose your illustrator?

Thanks! For A Place for Us, I wanted either watercolour or colour pencil illustrations, something soft and emotive because of the subject matter.

Usually, choosing an illustrator is a joint decision between my editor and me.

I felt Nicholas Liem’s style was right for the series, and he was passionate about the subject of special needs too.

With an architectural background, he also could provide interesting perspectives to common Singaporean backdrops.

A Place for Us by Singaporean author, Liane Ong.  Picture book series about persons with special needs. Drawn from real-life experiences, each story contains positive messages and beautiful illustrations, aimed for building respect, empathy, and acceptance in young readers ages 4-8 years old.
A Place for Us available on Amazon

What does the publication process involve for children’s books in Singapore?

It depends…there are several models.

Sometimes, we write and send it to publishers and hope our stories get published.

Other times, we get commissioned work.

What has been the hardest part about writing children’s books?

Publishing isn’t an easy business, and there’ve been many ups and downs.

What keeps me going is when I see kids have that eureka moment, or when parents tell me they love my stories. It makes it all worthwhile.

Liane Ong books about children with special needs - A Place for Us

Since there are relatively few books like this in Chinese, any plans to translate your stories to Chinese in the future?

I would love for a Chinese publisher to find my series, A Place for Us, meaningful enough to translate!

How do you manage to balance being a mother, business owner, and author?

I’m fortunate that my work is flexible and I’m able to work around my children’s schedules.

Multi-tasking is the order of the day, and the smartphone is a tremendous help – I am often editing photos and videos on my phone, or managing the website with an app, while on the go.

I write down notes in my phone when an idea comes to mind.

What is your support through busy work days?

My Christian faith.

Any final tips for raising book-lovers and encouraging children to embrace their culture?

Read regularly to your children from a very young age, every day.

Support local authors who write about your own country, and makers of locally themed toys, like our Asian felt food!

Review of Asian felt food toys

Where can we learn more about your businesses? (Social media, website)

For more information about my work as an author:

Website | Facebook | Instagram

For international customers, most of my titles are sold on Amazon.com.

For more information about Heartfelt Makan:

Website | Facebook | Instagram

We ship internationally!

So thankful for Lianne Ong for taking the time to share her passion and experience in sharing children’s stories and Asian play food that all families can enjoy and learn from!

Please leave a comment if you have any questions for Lianne Ong!

Interviews with mulicultural families

We’re not alone in this journey!

Here are more insights and inspiration from multicultural parents:

Happy reading and playing, friends!

21 Comments

  1. Oh wow I grew up in Singapore too and now live overseas. I have 3 children and hope that they won’t lose their culture while overseas. Your felt sets and books will help them remind them of their roots.

  2. I would love a set of these toys and the stories for my kids. I worked so hard to help the kids learn their heritage language. The toys and stories would be a great addition to our learning journey.

  3. Love your books and Asian felt food toys. I am especially interested in the Stacey set. I think my daughter will love to read them. Please keep writing more.

  4. Thank you for making these play food that my son can recognize. It’s so rare to find play ethnic food. I especially love the dragonfruit.

  5. What a fantastic way to introduce my child to a different culture through play food! I also love the meaningful stories.

  6. My girls will be super happy if they can get a set of the felt food. And this can definitely help them learn Chinese the culture as well as the language.

  7. I didn’t know the maker of this beautiful play food also wrote children’s books! I’ve been looking to buy the play food and was going to for Christmas, but decided to buy for my daughters upcoming birthday. I’m impressed by the quality and craftsmanship and LOVE that someone has filled the lack of traditional Chinese play food in the toy market! Can’t wait to own some and now looking into the books!

  8. We really appreciate your story books. I have a 6 year old whom i read regularly to. I also appreciates your sharing on how you try to give a better learning environment for mother tongue to your children. Truly not easy in singapore. Pls continue writing more stories mayb write one for mummies like me. All the best!

  9. Plastic cooking toys are the norm in Singapore and I would really like my toddler, who loves role-playing kitchen play, fo try out more natural-feeling felf toys instead.

  10. The felt toys look amazing!
    I hope you finda publisher interested in a Chinese version of your books. The illustration style is great!

  11. Thank you for writing these books. Inclusiveness is such an important message, and I think there is still so much work to be done. I hear often the heartbreaking and yet very common view that people with special needs should be kept separated, and I believe your books with help to teach us to have empathy for those who are different from others. In my circle are many with children with special needs, and I see the struggles that the family goes through, as well as the isolation, and lack of understanding they face. In addition, I love that your books also feature Asians. I hope your books will be translated to many languages. Please keep the books coming!

  12. Having raised two bi-racial children in the US without the benefits of all the resources now available, I am really glad to learn more and more from my daughter about resources to help her raise her own son to be bilingual. My mom is from Singapore, so these books and toys especially resonate with me! Thank you!

  13. I love these inspirational stories and the ideas behind the felt Asian foods. There’re not enough of these out there!! Thank you for all the thoughts and efforts put into your products. My son would love them!!

  14. Love the books and the natural-feeling felts are so adorable. My kids sure enjoy it. I hope they willing to share with their cousins and play together, read together, grow up together.

  15. These felt toys are so real and very adorable! Hope to win this special sets for our home school group which particularly useful to introduce Chinese culture, for role play and even for money counting practice! Thankyou Aunty Lianne and Janet for creating these beautiful masterpieces.

  16. I’ve seen these yummy dimsum from Betty’s post before. I miss Singapore (especially the food) so much! Thank you for making these felt makans. The kids (and adults alike) would love them.

  17. Never thought these felt makan would look so real. Makes me hungry! We could use these for practicing the kids’ chopsticks as well. Neat idea!

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