CHENNAI: Our children have grown up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, and The Famous Five, there has been no home-grown series, in that sense, that children can read,” shares author Ravi Subramanian. So, he took up the challenge, creating his own mystery series around modern young kids, who are mobile-friendly and tech-savvy like today’s generation — The SMS Detective Agency. The series features a gang of three adventurous nine-year-olds (twins Akriti and Aditya with their friend Kabir), who take on mysteries around the small town of Solan. The charming little hill town lends the story not only a serene atmosphere but also an array of possibilities for something to go wrong.
One for the children
Following the first book The Mystery of the School on Fire, The Mystery of the Missing Cat takes the trio on a search for a high-profile guest’s feline companion, amid the high-speed environment of an upcoming cricket match between India and Australia in the town. Carefully constructed plotline, ample twists, super sleuth work and two very adorable cats — the story has everything needed to captivate a child from the get-go. And that is crucial while writing for children, explains Ravi, who generally writes for an older reader base.
“I always felt deep down that writing for adults is much easier than writing for children. The difference between the two is that children have a small attention span. An adult may read 50 pages before they give up on your book but a child will dump it after two pages. Furthermore, there are many things you take for granted as an adult writer. The language, for instance. You can’t write words that children may not know. Adults may look up an unknown word, but children won’t bother,” he highlights the challenges of penning down his third children’s book.
Ravi’s style of writing lends itself well to a fussy audience, further supported by the cute, crayon-like illustrations by Ayeshe Sadr and Ishaan Dasgupta. The vivid images allow the story to remain fast-paced and focus on the plotline, while they stroke the view of the world around the children. From the grand Hotel Hilltop of Solan to the cricket stadium in the climax, the illustrations leave little to the imagination but much to scour within the pictures.
“It was wonderful working with them. They came up with the concept of the illustrations, and while I had initially pictured it differently, they prevailed and I am glad they did, because it looks wonderful,” remarks Ravi.
Think, don’t preach
Despite the subject matter, the story itself is a light read. The characters are jovial, smart and unique in some traits. Akriti, the sharp but caring one; Kabir, the foodie; and Aditya, the laid back one; each adds something to the story on top of the adventure and enthusiasm that they share in common.
While there is a kind of lesson hidden in the story, Ravi holds no intention to be preachy. “I avoid being moralistic. Who are we to teach the children morals? That’s for the parents and teachers to do. We have to entertain. But, I do leave some thoughts. I want to leave them enriched but that should not come in the way of the fact that these books are primarily and fundamentally entertaining,” he elaborates.
Now, if you are an ardent fan of thrillers and spend your entire reading time psychoanalysing characters and making mental notes of behaviour, as I do, you might find yourself solving the puzzle mid-way through the novel. That being said, if time were to be reversed, this would be a great introduction to the genre. If you refuse to take my word for it, you might believe the beloved children’s writer Ruskin Bond, who has recommended the book himself. “I was very happy to see that Ruskin Bond came back with such a wonderful comment. Hearing it from a legend in children’s writing made me very proud,” gleams Ravi.
While it is a series, one can easily slip into this individual book. If you could wait a few more months, you might have some more options coming in; ones that feature a few cousins or even take the trio on a trip. But would it be worth the wait? I guess we’ll have to see.
Rs 299 Price
Publishers Harper Collins Children’s Books