Books that were part of Singaporeans' childhoods
I’m glad I made a habit of reading local books since young as it broadened my perspective of Singaporean culture. J.K Rowling could never have taught me that stepping on roadside offerings was a Cruciatus curse waiting to happen - shout out to Russell Lee.
Besides offering a different vantage point to local issues, these books also resonated with readers as they were a pastiche of uniquely Singaporean themes like kiasu-ism, and of course, Singlish. We’ve dusted off 6 local books and magazines that shaped every Singaporean kid.
1. Bookworm Short Stories
Image credit: @sukoosuakoo
Back in primary school, I loved those days where a random book fair popped up in the canteen ‘cause:
1) ammo for silent reading
2) it was the ONLY time I could get my hands on the Bookworm Club storybooks.
Image credit: My Home Improvement
Young readers could easily relate to the slice-of-life adventures of Smarty and his friends, a bunch of archetypes you’d see in a typical classroom; from the gluttonous Porky to the narcissistic Mimi. This kept them entertained as they could pretend that they were tagging along with the bunch.
2. True Singapore Ghost Stories
Image credit: True Singapore Ghost Stories
The haunting cat eyes against the jet-black book covers gird readers of True Singapore Ghost Stories for the chills that’ll engulf them. This compendium of local horror stories has captivated Singaporeans for over 25 years; part of its appeal lies in the sheer fear factor of its user-submitted tales.
I remember being so spooked out by the pontianak story in Book 7 that I avoided looking at trees for a whole month.
Image credit: Russell Lee
The series is still going strong with 25 books released so far but the main star is the author himself, Russell Lee. Clad in an all-black ensemble, this mystery man has never revealed his face in public which has led to some speculating that his looks might just be scarier than his books.
3. Mr Kiasu
Image credit: Singapore Local Comics & Art Books Collection
Perfectly capturing the “I-want-it-all” zeitgeist of 90’s Singapore, the Mr Kiasu series depicts the misadventures of Kiasu who goes out of his way to sure win everything through sheer kiasu-ism.
Well, that clearly resonated with Singaporeans as the series sold over 650,000 copies and even generated a live-action TV show starring Chew Chor Meng and Daniel Ong.
The series went on hiatus in 2000 but fans can rejoice as a new book was released last year!
Image credit: @cytorious
4. Mr Midnight
Image credit: Gumtree
Think of Mr Midnight as Singapore’s answer to Goosebumps - the tales are obviously fake but that doesn’t make them any less scary. Since the books incorporate fantastical elements, you get a plethora of toe-curling plotlines you can’t find in other local series; from killer hamburgers to demon dentists.
You also get more bang for your buck as each book contains 2 different horror stories!
5. Kids Company
You’ve heard its catchy ad jingle on TV - Kids Company was the mini 8-Days of its time. The go-to magazine for all the juiciest info about Kids Central shows and stars, with article topics from “When will the next season of We Are R.E.M. begin?” to “Who was the moodiest member of Kids United?”.
Jam-packed with all sorts of fun articles and contests, Kids Company was well worth the risk of getting caught reading in class.
Image credit: my everything
Everyone grew up with a secret, guilty pleasure. Mine was borrowing a copy of Teenage from the girls in my secondary school and reading it far away from the judgemental eyes of my guy friends.
For the low price of $3, you’d get fashion tips and advice, celebrity interviews and of course, the Dear Kelly column which appealed to both my trashy and inquisitive sides with its juicy stories and no-nonsense “advice”.
You can still find Teenage magazine in stores - sans the Kelly column which was removed after a victim-blaming scandal in 2016.
Old-school books Singaporean kids used to read
Every now and then, I’ll read one of my old books and reminisce about the precious memories I had as a kid. Their pages may be weathered but the joy they bring is still good as new. Seeing as how these stories are evergreen, perhaps it’s time for us to pass them down to the current generation and start a new chapter in their lives.