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.
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!
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
For international customers, most of my titles are sold on Amazon.com.
For more information about Heartfelt Makan:
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:
- Inspired by Her Child, An Author Writes Chinese Books with Pinyin and English
- Raising Trilingual Kids: A Taiwanese-Korean-Australian Mom Shares Her Experience
- Raising Trilingual Kids: Insights From Korean-Taiwanese-American Parents
- 5 Strategies That Encourage A Child to Love and Speak the Minority Language
- Multilingual Books for Kids: Meet the Creator of Chinese Ebooks for Children