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Our Favourite Local Books That Celebrate Diversity

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Representation is so important.Our Favourite Local Books That Celebrate Diversity

epresentation is so important.

Children determine what they can be, based on the examples around them. From the people that look like them, live where they live, or come from where they came from. What our children consume in the media eventually shape what they imagine to be possible.

Our young people shape their expectations for themselves and for each other, based on what they see around them, be it positive of negative portrayals of certain groups of people.

One of the most powerful forms of representation comes in books, beginning with children’s picture books. Books and stories can make an enormous difference in dispelling stereotypes and prejudice. Books also become a way to teach history and supplement the often limited narratives provided in textbooks.

In continuation to our article on Raising Conscious Children, here’s our list of favourite local books that celebrate diversity. Fictional stories featuring characters of different races and ethnicities, as well as a selection of non-fiction books that highlight locals and their stories of being. Local heroes that we don’t always recognise.

For Ages 3 and Up

For Ages 7 and Up

For Ages 11 and Up

For Adult Readers

For Ages 3 and Up

The Amazing Sarong

by Quek Hong Shin

*Also available in Chinese, Malay and Tamil

“Isn’t a sarong just a boring big piece of cloth? What can be so amazing about it? Nora and Adi are about to go to the beach when their mother takes off her baby sling and hands it to the two children. They discover that there is more than meets the eye to this seemingly ordinary sarong. Join Nora and Adi as they go on a playful day out and discover what unexpected fun, joy and new encounters the sarong can bring.”

The Brilliant Oil Lamp

by Quek Hong Shin

“Join Asha and her friends from The Amazing Sarong and The Incredible Basket, as she moves from her cosy shophouse to a housing estate in Toa Payoh. The buildings are tall, the apartments are new. Asha’s home even has electric lights! Her family begins the rites of blessing for their new home using a beautiful oil lamp. Suddenly, the power is cut and everything goes dark. But Asha has an idea—why not share the lamp’s light with their new neighbours? The children also have fun with shadow play, and even light sparklers with the lamp. See how one brilliant light brings new and old friends together.”

The Invisible People

by Amy Chen

“This book series highlights some of the invisible people in our society: domestic workers, construction workers, and bus drivers. Even though these workers have played and continue to play a key part in contributing to Singapore’s growth, they are often treated with disdain and disrespect.

These beautifully illustrated books offer heartfelt stories that help children appreciate these unsung heroes in our society. Aunty Goes Home depicts how a family helps their domestic worker discover her passion for cooking during her time with them. They empower her to achieve her dreams when it’s time for her to return home. Uncles at Work portrays how a kind father teaches his son to bring food and drinks to the construction workers who are building their flat. The Bus Driver is the story of how something as simple as the bus trip to school and the interaction with the bus driver can inspire and impact one’s growing-up years.

These stories remind us that these workers are people who have the same needs and dreams that we do. They demonstrate how seemingly simple acts of kindness can make a world of difference, both to the workers who receive and the child who gives.”

Straits Times Press

The following is an illustrated heritage cookbook series. It aims to inspire children to discover more about the traditional dishes of the various ethnic groups in Singapore. Through imaginative storylines involving kids learning about food and cooking for themselves.

Vinod And the Deepavali Dishes

by Debra Ann Francisco, Illustrated by Madeline Wee

“At the start of the book, Vinod is at the market with his Aunt Meera. She’s buying vegetables and other items for Deepavali. Along the way, he enjoys the sights and sounds of Little India. Back home, he is surprised to see his grandfather, whom he calls Tatta. Tatta is cooking delicious-smelling and perfect-looking murukku. Vinod learns that his grandfather used to be a chef.

Vinod then helps his aunt and his grandfather cook many dishes. He decides to design a large menu to list all the dishes there will be. Aunty Meera suggests he adds candles and lamps to his poster since it is for Deepavali – the festival of lights.”

Beverly and the Peranakan Feast

by Debra Ann Francisco, Illustrated by Madeline Wee

“The story starts when a little girl called Beverly coming across her mother weeping in the kitchen because a Nonya dish she is trying to cook is not coming out right. Beverly telephones her grandmother and asks her to come over to help. Together, the three of them cook up a number of special dishes, such as pong tauhu (meatball soup), for a party. Along the way, Beverly learns more about special Peranakan dishes, some traditional tools used, such as the batu lesong (mortar and pestle), and traditions such as the tok panjang, or a sumptuous Peranakan feast.”

Hafiz and the Raya Recipes

by Debra Ann Francisco, Illustrated by Madeline Wee

“Hafiz is disappointed because his parents will not be home in time for Hari Raya. He and his siblings decide to cook for their own Hari Raya feast, with their favourite dishes like ikan bakar and ayam goreng, and to invite their relatives and friends. They ask their Nenek – their grandmother – to show them how to cook, but because she cooks by sight, touch and taste, she suggests that they look for her recipes that are “somewhere around the place… stored in an old suitcase”. Hafiz manages to find the suitcase and he and his siblings are able to cook their favourite dishes for Hari Raya. This book is written in rhyme, which makes it enjoyable to read aloud.”

Emma and the Eurasian Potluck

by Debra Ann Francisco, Illustrated by Madeline Wee

“Emma is writing in her diary on 25 December 1963, after her family’s yearly midnight Christmas party. She recounts how she and her sisters went to Tekka Market with their mother to buy ingredients for Eurasian pie, how they made pineapple tarts on the charcoal oven, and she mentions the other dishes at the party such as prawn bostada and devil curry. Young readers will be amused by the lively tone of the diary – written just as a little girl might – and enthralled by the glimpse into the past and seeing how food was cooked before the days of widespread electricity.”

Mei Lin and the Reunion Dinner

by Debra Ann Francisco, Illustrated by Madeline Wee

“Mei Lin and her mother are decorating the house for Chinese New Year. When Mei Lin’s mother realises that Mei Lin has eaten up all the love letters, she sends her to her grandmother’s – her Nai Nai’s – house to make more. Nai Nai shows her how to combine the coconut milk, eggs, sugar and flour for the batter and how to use the special mould for love letters. Mei Lin helps Nai Nai prepare the food for steamboat, for reunion dinner, and arranges the items for yu sheng (tossed raw fish salad). Through the story, readers will learn more about the three dishes highlighted in the story – love letters, steamboat and yu sheng – as well as some of the colourful customs of Chinese New Year.”

Kin Collective

Kin is about sharing stories based on real people who have moved us, but whose stories go untold. “we invite everyone, young and old, to listen, understand and grow in empathy, to come together as kin everywhere.

Miguel Builds A New Home

by Rachel Nadia

“Miguel Builds a New House tells of a little farmer boy whose house is blown away in a typhoon. With the little that they have, how will they rebuild?”

*This is a story inspired by families everywhere at great risk of climate-related destruction. 

Tripina Finds Fresh Water

by Rachel Nadia

“Tripina Finds Fresh Water tells of a little girl who fetches water daily for her family and how her life and dreams are transformed when she gets clean water for the first time.”

 *This is a story inspired by thousands of children around the world who still go without clean water.

Hannah Learns About Love

by Rachel Nadia

“Hannah Learns About Love tells of a little girl who leads a simple life with her grandparents. But she is teased in school for being poor. Will Grandma and Grandpa be able to help her see otherwise?”

*This story hopes to remind children everywhere of the value of love and relationships over material wealth. 

For Ages 7 and Up

Understanding Singaporeans Series – by Edmund Wee

About the Author
Edmund Wee is the founder of Epigram Books which was set up to champion Singaporean literature. It publishes mainly fiction—from picture books to graphic novels to literary bestsellers. Its authors have won all the major book prizes, including the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award, Singapore Literature Prize and Singapore Book Awards since it started in 2011. 

About the Series
Understanding Singaporeans is a series of 4 illustrated handbooks, each with 20 questions and answers to promote understanding of the different races and cultures in Singapore. 

Why Do the Chinese Shout Yam Seng?

“Why do the Chinese eat noodles at wedding dinners? Why do they hang blankets around HDB void decks after a funeral? Why is Chinatown called “cow car water”? We provide the answers— and useful tips as well—to some of the most-asked questions young Singaporeans have about the Chinese, including what a “red tortoise cake” is.”

Why Do Malays Avoid Pork?

“Why do Malays use “bin” and “binte” in their names? Why are there two Hari Rayas? Why do women cover their heads? We provide the answers—and useful tips as well—to some of the most-asked questions young Singaporeans have about the Malay community, including why green is special to Malays.”

Why Do Eurasians Love Sugee Cake?

“How can you tell if someone is Eurasian? What is Eurasian food? Is kaya a “Eurasian jam”? We provide the answers—and useful tips as well—to some of the most-asked questions young Singaporeans have about Eurasians, including why we don’t have a “Eurasiatown”.”

Why Do Indians Dot Their Foreheads?

“Why do Indians hang mango leaves in doorways? Where does roti prata come from? We provide the answers—and useful tips as well—to some of the most-asked questions young Singaporeans have about the Indian community, including why some Indians wear turbans.”

Ages 11 and Up

A Yellow House

by Karien van Ditzhuijzen

“Ten-year-old Singaporean Maya is lonely: her grandmother is dead, her mother is focused on her career and her best friend has become a bully. When Aunty M, a domestic worker from Indonesia, joins the family to take care of Maya and her baby sister, Maya is ready to hate her. Aunty M smiles a lot, but says little. However, after Aunty M rescues a fellow maid living in the same building and beaten by her employer, Maya discovers a side of Singapore hitherto unknown to her. She and Aunty M grow closer as they meet more and more women in need. What will happen when Mama finds out about Maya and Aunty M s growing involvement with the aunties? Will Maya lose Aunty M too? After all, Mama did say she hates busybodies …

This poignant coming-of-age story, told in the voice of inquisitive Maya, explores the plight of migrant domestic workers in Singapore and the relationships they form with the families they work for.”

Adult Readers

Me Migrant

by Md Mukul Hossine

Synopsis

Me migrant
Beyond borders
Mislaying smiles
Dawn to dusk then dawn again

Me Migrant features the poems of Md Mukul Hossine – poems originally written in Bengali by Mukul, transcreated by Singapore poet Cyril Wong based on English translations by Fariha Imran and Farouk Ahammed. It represents the voice of hope and inclusiveness, of longing and dreaming, of service and heart.

This collection was born of the friendship between volunteers of community clinic HealthServe and foreign construction workers. Dr Tan Lai Yong, a volunteer medical doctor at Healthserve and his team of medical students from National University of Singapore (NUS) were inspired by their experiences and Mukul’s poems to respond with some writings of their own.

The poetry within these pages makes us see farther, think deeper, and listen. In listening, let us cross these borders.”

This Is What Inequality Looks Like

by Teo You Yenn

“What is poverty? What is inequality? How are they connected? How are they reproduced? How might they be overcome? Why should we try? 

The way we frame our questions shapes the way we see solutions. This book does what appears to be a no-brainer task, but one that is missing and important: it challenges you to pose questions in different ways, to shift the vantage point from which they view ‘common sense,’ and in so doing, to see themselves as part of problems and potential solutions. This is a book about how seeing poverty entails confronting inequality. It is about how acknowledging poverty and inequality leads to uncomfortable revelations about our society and ourselves. And it is about how once we see, we cannot, must not, unsee.”

Malay Sketches

by Alfian Sa’at, Illustrations by Shahril Nizam

Malay Sketches is a collection of stories that borrows its name from a book of anecdotes by colonial governor Frank Swettenham, describing Malay life on the Peninsula. In Alfian Sa’at’s hands, these sketches are reimagined as flash fictions that record the lives of members of the Malay community in Singapore. With precise and incisive prose, Malay Sketches offers the reader profound insights into the realities of life as an ethnic minority.”

Homeless: The Untold Story of a Mother’s Struggle in Crazy Rich Singapore

by Liyana Dhamirah

“Ten years ago, Liyana Dhamirah was in a precarious situation: at 22, she was heavily pregnant and had no place to call home.

For Liyana, home was often unstable. Once a bright teenager full of optimism, she faced uncertainty and found no support from family, government agencies and welfare groups. She had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. When she started living on a beach in Sembawang, she discovered a community of people—families—who were homeless just like her. They stuck together and watched out for each other, even when there were raids. She learned that in prosperous Singapore, the homeless are not always identifiable by appearance alone.

Months later, journalists eventually uncovered Liyana’s story and how she navigated a bureaucracy of obstacles. Today she is a successful entrepreneur and this is her memoir.”

Kampong Boy

by M Ravi

“Over the last decade, M Ravi has been involved in some of the most high profile and politically sensitive constitutional cases in Singapore. He has taken a courageous stand against the mandatory death penalty; argued for the right to free assembly, freedom of expression, the right to byelection, and equal rights for members of the LGBT community. Because of his advocacy for these issues, he has come to be seen as Singapore’s leading human rights lawyer, one of the few willing to battle away on these important issues.

Taking up human rights causes in the Lion City is often perceived by the authorities as an act of disloyalty, and those labelled as disloyal can see their own rights and liberties impinged upon. What are the springs of this commitment and the moral strength that have allowed Ravi to continue on this sometimes perilous path?

To answer this, Ravi takes us back to his roots in one of Singapore’s few multi-racial villages, or kampongs. The lessons he learnt there – about family, cooperation with others and compassion – have infused much of his life and guided him on his path towards the pursuit of justice.”

Growing Up Perempuan

edited by Filzah Sumartono and Margaret Thomas

“Growing up as a woman is hard.
Growing up as a woman in the Muslim community is harder.

In a world still filled with superstitions, if you die during childbirth you become a vampiric ghost and if you survive you might get attacked by a flying ghost. You collect experiences in the workplace that should be office satire but aren’t. You face constant judgement, try to live up to endless expectations, and somehow…still fall short.

Growing Up Perempuan is a collection of stories written by women, for women. This book offers stories of love and loss, strength and endurance, confidence and courage—stories that inspire and empower. This is a book about challenging the status quo and learning to chart our own paths instead of having the world define them for us.”


Let’s make sure that our next generation of leaders can see themselves and all their peers as strong, creative, capable and happy. Learn to stand up for causes they believe in, and help the marginalised and forgotten.

Feel free to leave a comment down below with one of your own recommendations, or drop me an emailto get in touch!

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Jach is one of the Co-Founders of Learnable. Jach aspires for Learnable to not only equip students with academic knowledge, but a thirst for progress and self-improvement. Likes affordable buffet dinners and petting dogs! Contact
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