SINGAPORE, Aug 24 — If you ask her, preschool teacher and budding writer Suzannah Chua probably knows The Singapore Story — the first volume of the memoirs penned by founding father Lee Kuan Yew — like the back of her hand.
The 26-year-old poured over the tome, as well as several others — Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, From Third World to First and Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation, to name a few — for months, as part of extensive research to create a children’s book highlighting the man’s experience in guiding Singapore from a British colony to an independent nation.
Then came the writing process, a hurdle for Chua, given her personal circumstances.
Chua’s mother died of cancer while she was knee-deep into the work, and along with it, her initial passion. “(My mother) was my cheerleader, who believed in my project from the beginning. Continuing on without her was a real challenge, as all my enthusiasm died without her around,” she admitted.
After her friends and family encouraged her, she started work again, and began jotting down sentences that came to her randomly “to see how they would all fit together”. What followed was tons of rewrites — 10 of them, to be exact — just to get the sentences to sound right, and then “many edits and subsequent rewrites to complete it”, she shared.
She then faced another obstacle — fact-checking. Besides referring to the internet and the National Archives of Singapore, she also approached her personal contacts and friends, ranging from history teachers to civil servants, who were involved in various national heritage projects and who were knowledgeable about Singapore’s history and Lee, she said.
The two-year effort finally culminated in her first book, One Man and His Life. The 32-page softcover book, which is aimed at preschoolers aged three to six years old, will be officially launched this Saturday.
Chua hopes this children’s picture book, which she illustrated herself with crayons — an eight-month effort after having trouble finding an illustrator — can serve as a learning aid and history book for preschool levels.
While she had never personally met the late Singaporean leader, Chua said she had grown up with “plenty of exposure to Singapore history”, and she began to develop an admiration for him. “When I was older, I read his books, and the admiration grew into profound respect for a man who was able to put his unselfish dream for the nation before himself and work tirelessly towards that end,” she added.
While she had been playing around with the idea of documenting the founding of Singapore and Lee’s role for some time — having come to the realisation that “there is a lack of deep, quality materials on our heritage for young children” — his death in March last year spurred her to write with a focus on him.
Suddenly, she said, “the urgency gripped me to write about him for our children in Singapore”. Watching and reading his past speeches had left her “speechless at his eloquence and the depth of his thoughts”, and had given her fresh inspiration.
“My greatest concern at the time was that he would be relegated to the halls of fame as a great man in Singapore, without our children having a chance to discover who he was and what he really did for our nation,” she explained.
Thus began her journey to produce a piece of work that proved both accurate and a worthy tribute to Lee.
Chua, who is currently finishing her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Management at SIM University, said her hope is that her book “will be one of the books children read over and over again until they learn by heart the beginnings of their nation of Singapore”.
While she has a new book planned — still centring on local Singaporean content for children — Chua says she is unlikely to switch to writing as a full-time gig.
“To me, my inspiration to write comes from children ... I need my daily fix of children every day, and teaching allows me to do that!” — TODAY
*One Man and His Life (S$15/RM45) can be purchased online via www.storyteachers.com or at major bookstores.