Reading to my 6-year-old son before his bedtime was how he learned what is inside Lee Kuan Yew’s mysterious red box.
Ever since he was a toddler, reading to my son before bedtime has been part of the routine.
He will pick from a range of books that he has on his bedroom shelf nightly. However, I admit that the regularity of these reading sessions has been sporadic since the middle of last year as he eschewed storybooks for more time in front of the television (I know, I know).
It came at an opportune moment then, that I got to know about the National Library Board (NLB)’s Storytime series last month.
Scrolling through the entire series of videos, one would notice how they are read by people of all backgrounds and occupations. This is part of NLB’s LAB25, or the Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025, role of inspiring everyone to be a Singapore Storyteller.
When asked to pick a story, my son, who has fond memories of a short cruise holiday before the pandemic, immediately zeroed in on stories that were read by uniformed personnel from the Republic of Singapore Navy.
The stories that they read were aptly related to their profession and life at sea.
My son had several thought-provoking questions about a segment of a story which touched on World War II. One such question was, “Why do people need to suffer, can’t they just run away?”
He soon followed up with another question, asked in wide-eyed wonder, “There is a bird poop island?”. This was in relation to the name of a Singapore Island.
If you guessed that the island is Pedra Branca, you’d be right — which shows you never know what fun facts present themselves in these books.
For the record, Pedra Branca, which means “white rock” in Portuguese, was named after guano (bird droppings) which used to cover the island.
The storytelling videos are usually not more than eight minutes long each, and we could easily listen to two or three different stories in one night.
The next night, my son showed eagerness to continue the storytelling sessions and quickly hopped into bed.
This time, we chose a story read by another uniformed volunteer — a stewardess from Singapore Airlines.
The stories were centred on animals and places of interest in Singapore, which I thought would capture my son’s attention.
Being able to pause and play is the greatest advantage of listening to a recorded storytelling session. One can continue anytime from where we left off even after a meltdown.
And I must admit, the nightly sessions have become a bonding activity between my son and me. They also drive interesting conversations about topics we would usually not come across.
For instance, there was a story about Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, and the legendary red briefcase which he carried everywhere.
My son was immediately intrigued by the idea of a mysterious red box and pressed me incessantly for information on what was inside it. It was later revealed, as most of us would know, that it contained the late prime minister’s speeches, notes and many other documents.
It also prompted my K2-going kid to ask about the role of a Prime Minister, to which I hope I had given an adequate response.
NLB’s storytelling sessions are targeted at children aged four to ten. More than just edutainment, the videos also provide insights into the different jobs of the volunteers, as they are sometimes able to pepper the stories with their own experiences.
While I definitely fall outside the age bracket, one thing that I appreciate about the stories is how they are mostly written by local authors, making them relatable to my son.
One story which revolved around the customary Chinese New Year reunion dinner drew out an enthusiastic, “I know that. It’s yu sheng [a raw fish salad]!” from my son, who participated in his first lo hei [“tossing up prosperity” in Cantonese] experience this year.
I observed that zooming in on vivid illustrations with the combination of expressive storytellers, captures my son’s attention.
I can definitely see how digital storytelling is popular, this was especially so for me during the period of heightened safety management measures during the pandemic. The local context to the stories makes it stand out from other videos out there as well.
It has only been a few days, and I have high hopes that these Storytime videos can rekindle my son’s love for reading books again.
Another plus point? If reading is the last thing you want to do after a long day at work, why not have someone else do the storytelling for you? #SGStorytellers
This article is brought to you by NLB.