Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.
I was originally going to write about a few adoption picture books which I read as I am helping a girlfriend with a project on this subject.
But with the breaking news this morning that Singapore’s Founding Father and our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has finally passed on, I thought I would instead share on a series of first-ever children’s picture books written about Lee Kuan Yew’s growing up years as my mini-tribute to a giant of a man who has greatly influenced the lives of us Singaporeans through what Singapore is today.
Mr Lee’s brilliant, unwavering, and uncompromising leadership is what has brought Singapore her success today. Of course, no one is perfect – there are policies which people have criticised and Mr Lee has his fair share of detractors who feel he can be very harsh on those with opposing views.
To me, that is all part of the package of who the man is. Like a respected authoritarian father whom I would shudder to be in the same room with because I would feel I could never measure up with anything I said, I nonetheless feel a sense of gratitude to him and our forefathers for the roofs they have put over our heads, the clean water that flows from our taps, the education we have received and the security of living in a country whose streets we and our children can walk safely at night.
I will let the words and illustrations in Patrick’s books speak for themselves.
A Boy named Harry – The Childhood of Lee Kuan Yew
By Patrick Yee
Published by Epigram Books
“A family friend suggested that his parents give him the Chinese name Kuan Yew, which means “light and brightness”. Harry’s beloved grandfather, Kung, who greatly admired the British, gave him the name Harry.”
“When Harry was a child, there was no TV and he didn’t have a lot of toys. He liked to play with spinning tops, marbles, kites – and even fighting fish! These games made him rather competitive; he always wanted to win.”
“Even though he was now in secondary school, Harry was as mischievous as ever. He was often distracted and wrote notes to his classmates during lessons. He even copied some of the things his teachers did or said. Once he was caught making a drawing of the back of his science teacher’s head, complete with a bald patch.”
Most of us only know Mr Lee as serious, severe and burdened by Singapore’s future. I especially like this last spread above because it reveals how he once was a mischievous kid like everyone else before he carried the weight of Singapore’s future on his shoulders.
Harry grows up – The Early Years of Lee Kuan Yew
By Patrick Yee
Published by Epigram Books
“But the worse thing about his first year at Raffles College was something called “hazing”. Every first-year student had to go through it as part of college life. Harry was forced by senior students to wear a torn green tie and wave a green flag, sing and even push a marble on the ground with his nose.”
“Harry scored well in his Mathematics exams and was regularly the best student in that subject. But he could not believe that he wasn’t the best in English and Economics as well. The person who beat him for the first place in both those subjects was a girl named Kwa Geok Choo.”
“One of the first things Choo noticed about Harry when they reunited (in UK where they both later studied) was that he seemed different. Instead of the carefree person that she had known in Singapore, he was now someone who was deeply concerned about the British treatment of non-British people.
Harry thought about what Choo had said and realised that it was true. His experience in the war and his time in England had made him want to change how Singapore was governed when he returned to his homeland.”
I like how this ends with a true love story of how Harry went on to marry the woman who bested him in grades.
Along with fellow Singaporeans, I remember seeing the most tender side of Mr Lee through his wife’s final years before she died. On his wife of 63 years, Kwa Geok Choo, who died in October 2010, Mr Lee said:
“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life… I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”
Today, as Singaporeans mourn the passing of a great man, we also reflect on how far Singapore has come as Little Red Dot in the past 50 years in our nation’s Jubilee Year.
Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91 (The Telegraph)
The Best Quotes from Singapore’s Founding Father (The Guardian)
Harry books 1 and 2 can be purchased from Epigram Books. Read about illustrator Patrick Yee and his work.