At 50, Merlion woos kids with storybook, board game, high chair and romper

Merli is featured in storybook Marky Polo In Singapore, which is illustrated by Nicholas Liem and written by Emily Lim-Leh. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – For 50 years, the Merlion has been a Singapore icon embraced by tourists and locals alike.

How will this creature – with the head of a lion and the body of a fish – continue to capture the hearts of younger generations?

Perhaps the answer lies in getting children to see it in their daily lives.

A baby romper and toddler high chair are among the kids’ products launched to celebrate the Merlion’s golden jubilee.

They feature adorable Merli, an illustrated character based on the 8.6m-tall colossal statue which was launched by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Sept 15, 1972.

Merli has also made a splash in the world of children’s books for the first time. In comic-style storybook Marky Polo In Singapore, he plays host to his friend Marky’s overseas cousin Merry and shows him around Singapore.

Jewel Changi Airport, Kampong Glam and Chinatown are among the many places brought to life in the book by 40-year-old illustrator Nicholas Liem.

Liem, who is trained in architecture, took his kids aged four and eight to every location featured in the story to get a personal viewpoint for his drawings.

Illustrations from children’s book Marky Polo In Singapore, written by Emily Lim-Leh and illustrated by Nicholas Liem. PHOTO: WORLD SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION

The most challenging part of illustrating the 35-page book, he says, was in maintaining the characters’ consistency.

“Merli is much more than a character in the book. It is the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) whimsical version of our Merlion icon. As such, there are very specific guidelines on the drawing of Merli which requires accuracy in the outlines and colours.”

This is the third book in the Marky Polo Travel series, recommended for kids aged three to eight.

Author Emily Lim-Leh, 50, created Marky Polo as a pangolin character who lives in Singapore and travels within Asia.

“When I read about STB’s SingapoRediscovers campaign, launched during the Covid-19 period, I became even more convinced that I wanted Marky Polo to rediscover Singapore,” says Lim-Leh, whose publisher at World Scientific Education then reached out to STB.

The book includes augmented-reality features. Readers can scan hot spots that go to websites of the attractions mentioned in the story as well as STB’s animated series Merli And Friends on YouTube.

Those who like to express themselves using stickers on WhatsApp and iMessage can also download fun versions, featuring Merli and Marky, at this website.

Created by two dads, board game Let’s Go! features Merli and Singapore’s landmarks. PHOTO: MER-LION GAME STUDIOS

And for families with kids aged four to eight, why not bond over Let’s Go!, a board game featuring Merli and Singapore landmarks?

Challenge your children to be the first to get to the destination while, at the same time, teach them simple arithmetic, pattern matching and strategic thinking skills.

It is created by two fathers – Mr Eugene Tay, 43, and Mr Lee Chien Herr, 42 – who grew up on a staple of board games and now enjoy designing them for their children. Mr Tay has a six-year-old son and Mr Lee has two kids aged six and eight.

This is the first offering from their start-up Mer-Lion Game Studios.

Created by two dads, board game Let's Go! features Merli and Singapore landmarks. PHOTO: MER-LION GAME STUDIOS

Mr Tay says: “We are doing this out of love and interest. We both have day jobs. I’m a product director for a tech company and Chien Herr is a lawyer.”

They incorporated Merli into the board game, illustrated by 39-year-old artist Lim Hang Kwong, as the character appeals to kids and is a local icon.

As for their company name, he says: “We wanted one that symbolises something local and could also stir the imagination. We thought the Merlion was apt for that.”

  • Marky Polo In Singapore is available at $12.90 (paperback) and $19.90 (hardcover) from this website and major bookstores. Meet author Emily Lim-Leh and illustrator Nicholas Liem for a storytelling session and art activity at Times Bookstore Waterway Point on Oct 1 at 3pm.
  • - Let’s Go! retails for $68.90 at stores including Owl Readers Club, Elm Tree and selected Popular Bookstore outlets.

More Merli buys from Singapore brands

Merli Baby Easyeo Romper from Oeteo. PHOTO: OETEO

Merli Baby Easyeo Romper ($22.90) from Oeteo is designed without fastening buttons, so you can dress your wiggly baby faster. Go to this website.

Merli Toddler Chair from Edupod. PHOTO: EDUPOD

Merli Toddler Chair ($427) from Edupod helps your little one to join the family at the dining table and sit comfortably during meals. Go to this website.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.