All your questions on Singapore history, answered in one breezy book!
The new non-fiction Danger Dan book for kids, Secrets of Singapore, is one for the history buffs, both young and old. Informative on all aspects of Singapore history and society, it has an eye for the telling anecdote, does not shy away from a pun and a chummy reading voice that never patronises.
I love history. So Singapore: A Biography by Mark Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow has been on my nightstand since I arrived in Singapore. But four years on, I am still only about halfway through this mighty (well-written, interesting, incredibly dense) tome.
I tore through Secrets in Singapore in a couple of hours, and I feel very well-informed now on Singapore’s history and society. Not only that, but the latest instalment in the Danger Dan-series by mother-daughter team Lesley-Anne and Monica Lim contains lots of fun facts and anecdotes (did you know the Singapore water polo team has won the gold medal at ever SEA Games since 1965? Me neither!) to keep your interest piqued.
It’s written in a breezy and accessible style, with lots of graphics, including cheesy puns of the sort I used to ROFL at when I was a child. And that’s no coincidence – this non-fiction book is aimed at children between 8 and 14 years old. It contains easy language, lots of explanations, pictures and a great variety of ways to render bullet-points, such as post-its, treasure maps, tables and Victorian-style labels.
Monica Lim, who in addition to the Danger Dan-series write the blog “Of kids and education” and authored the fiction novel The Good, the Bad, and the PSLE, has a knack for spotting where educational goals fall short of reaching children. “We noticed something unexpected”, she wrote on her blog about meet-the-author events for earlier Danger Dan-books. “Some kids, upon receiving the latest book, would turn to the back portion first – where we have two pages of Fascinating Facts, offering historical information about the people, places and events covered in the book. That’s when we realised that some kids are very interested in facts and information.”
Although the new book is not meant to replace a proper textbook, it will hopefully add a bit of spice to the current books on offer. “I was especially motivated”, writes Monica Lim, “because both my kids didn’t find social studies in school terribly interesting, especially the political bits.” And about those political bits: “We tried to stick to facts, to be as objective as possible. (…) And because the book is not commissioned by anyone, we’re not obliged to include or exclude certain things, or to write it in a certain way.”
So no quibbles at all? Well, not any major ones. The book is a bit heavy on architectural history, such as several paragraphs on the National Library building, but only one author (Edwin Thumboo) is mentioned in the Arts chapter. “Communist” is defined as “some Chinese who were against the British government”, which might strike non-Singaporeans as odd on first reading, though it fits within the context of Singapore history. Similarly, a few chapters pre-suppose a fair amount of local knowledge, such as the one on education. In the history of sports, I would have liked to know more about the sports most popular in Singapore, and which ones are played in schools – but that probably tells you more about my personal interests than about the quality of the book.
On the whole, I found it an enormously informative and entertaining read, especially for kids. It has even made me feel brave (and informed!) enough to attempt Singapore’s big biography again.
Secrets of Singapore was written by Lesley-Anne & Monica Lim and illustrated by James Tan. The book is available at all major book shops, or through the publisher, Epigram Books, for $14.90.