Keep talking about the War.
Playtime with Ye Ye is based on two real-life grandfathers and their grandson. I simply replicated in the book the stories these real-life Ye Ye told. For the generation who grew up in the ‘40s, WWII is a huge part of their reminiscences. WWII is also a huge part of our national history! So, it was only natural that WWII would feature in Playtime with Ye Ye.
However, when I started bringing Ye Ye to schools, I started to realise that talking about the war was… uncomfortable. First of all, I have to ask myself whether it was necessary to introduce WWII to 4 to 6-year-olds.
“Will it be inappropriate to talk about war with preschoolers? Will they understand? Why bother introducing WWII to such young children when they will learn about it later during primary school Social Studies? Just leave the job to Ministry of Education (MOE)!” These were some of the thoughts going through my mind.
Then, as I presented the story in school after school, I was startled to discover that many children did not know or believe that Singapore had been through a war. Whenever I asked, “Did war ever happen in Singapore?”, they would reply with a confident “No!”
It meant that their parents were not having that conversation with them! Their parents were probably also thinking, “Leave the job to MOE.” Oh dear!
It is very different to hear about the war from one’s family compared with reading about it in a Social Studies textbook. Government-approved history books seem to be all about irrelevant events and strangers who do heroic deeds but who are, in the end, still strangers. I remember how I hung onto my grandma’s every word as she reminisced about how she suffered during the war and, days later, I’d ask her to tell her story again.
This strengthened my resolve to talk about WWII with young people and encourage them to ask their family the right questions, “Grandpa, tell me about the war in Singapore.”