The Illustrated Men in White – Great way to teach children about Singapore History
April 1, 2015

Yesterday I was at the National Library.  They had set up a section with books related to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  One particular book caught my eye.

The Illustrated Men in White

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Men In White, as we Singaporeans know it, refers to the People’s Action Party (PAP).  The book summarizes the early days of the PAP during Singapore’s post-war years. It highlights the struggles Mr Lee Kuan Yew faced during his early days in politics.  But what makes this book special? It is in the form of a comic.

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It looked like an excellent resource for homeschooling our children about the history of Singapore.  It seemed a bit deep for my kids (aged 2 and 4), but I picked it up for myself.  After all, we SAHMs do not have the time and luxury to read the original 692-page Men In White.

Let me briefly summarize the contents of the book and you can decide if you want to pick it up to share with your kids.


Chapter 1: Young Men Dream Of Independence: Merdeka!

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The book begins from post-war 1945 Singapore.  It illustrates how two groups of young men: The Chinese-educated at The Chinese High School and the English-educated at London started discussing about independence and how they hoped to achieve it.

Lee Kuan Yew's first appearance in the book.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s first appearance in the book.


Chapter 2: She Sews For The Party

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Interestingly, the second chapter of the book focuses on Mrs Lee Kuan Yew and the role she played during the process of PAP’s formation.  (Which had little to do with her sewing.)

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Chapter 3: Kelong Plot, Mystery Voters

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This chapter illustrates a conspiracy among the leftists to gain control of PAP in 1957 and how the quick-thinking Mr Lee Kuan Yew came up with a solution to regain his control.

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Chapter 4:  Who will be PM?

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This chapter illustrates how, after PAP swept the 1959 elections, there was a race for who would be the PM: Mr Lee Kuan Yew or Mr Ong Eng Guan (What? Who? My Singapore history needs serious brushing up.).  The most interesting part was that there were two different accounts, one account by Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr Ong Pang Boon and the other account by Mr Lee and Mr S Rajaratnam, on what actually happened at that time.

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Chapter 5: Dash from Bed to Cast Vote

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This chapter illustrates how, even after becoming PM, it was not a bed of roses for Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  With increasing dissent from the leftist in the party, he took a huge gamble to secure power.

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The book ends at this point in 1961 and does not go on to the familiar history of merger and separation. Which is what makes this book so intriguing. In our History lessons, it seemed pretty straightforward: Mr Lee Kuan Yew returned to Singapore after his studies – Set up PAP – Won the 1959 elections – Became Singapore’s first PM.   But as this book illustrated, this path did not come easy for him at all.

“Why do I want to live my life all over again? I may not be as lucky a second time in so many things.”

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Information on The Illustrated Men in White:

Publisher: Straits Times Press

Year of Publication: 2009

ISBN: 9789814266529

This book can be borrowed from National Library Board‘s Young Adult Lending Sections.

Call Number: 324.25957 ILL

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