Making detectives of children

Let me confess something first. I might have written books for kids, but till now hadn’t interacted with them much. Not the ones who are in the 9-13 years of age. Actually, not many at all. For writing, I had used the kid inside me. So when I committed myself to doing detective workshops at schools with Bookaroo, I had a whole week of sleepless nights! If I haven’t handled one kid, how would I deal with 100+? Would they get the mystery I had created? Would they like solving it? Would they be bored and fidgety? My first workshop at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya had more than 200 kids. It was a riot, but a happy one. (Read Bookaroo’s blog on it here).

I wasn’t sure the workshop will work, but after four workshops in Delhi and one in Bangalore, in conference rooms, libraries and open grounds, and book stores, I see that like me, all kids love mysteries. Their eyes shine, they huddle in groups and chat and that’s how they solve things. One little girl approached me after the third workshop and said in a serious tone, ‘Thank you, mam. I was expecting a boring session where you tell us how to write stories, but the case you gave to solve was so much fun for me. I really, really enjoyed doing it.’

I am quite relaxed about my upcoming workshop in Bangalore at Atta Galatta. (Have kids? The workshop is free and at Atta Galatta this Saturday at 4pm) But that’s not what this blog is about. This is about what I learnt about myself and the kids while I was doing these workshops.

They love being detectives. Kids are marvelously curious. They like to question, like to make stories for the gaps and if given a mystery, like to solve it. They love donning the detective hats!

They do if they care. There’s nothing more beautiful to see a kid passionate about something. Before the workshop began, I compared them to Kartik the main character of the book, who solves this really complex mystery. Kartik is their age. If he can, they can. This little competitive spirit makes them care for the characters. If they care, they keep their heads down and solve the mystery till the very end. And this passion (see the pictures) makes me smile every time. A headmistress at Ambience School, Safdarjung wanted suggestions on how she could get more kids to read. My impromptu answer was make them more involved. Ask for alternate endings to known booksThey like to do, not listen. Now that’s something I saw in everyone. If you give them too much gyan, they get bored. Keep it short, and let them solve the rest. Which is why this detective workshop format works. It’s they who are doing the work, not me. I just stand by and see and sometimes guide (mostly try and make them question however).

If they like a character, they will read about him/her. School principles, teachers, parents have told me that their kids don’t read, don’t care about books. But here’s one kid, Medha, 12, who sent me this email after I did the workshop at her school: ‘I attended the Bookaroo workshop which was held in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. I read The Ghost Hunters Of Kurseong and it is the best book I have ever read! It was a really nice mystery and I kept guessing the culprit until the end.’ Someone read the book because they remembered Kartik, from the workshop.

Do they believe in ghosts? No. Yes. Maybe. Ask them if they believe in ghosts and see their eyes light up with curiosity. Kids, unlike us adults, don’t have so many pre-conceived notions of science, superstition and beliefs. Some put their hands straight up, some sneak a look at their friends and some keep their hands in their laps, shaking their heads. Yes, they are open minded, but they are also opinionated.

Kids loves monsters and ghosts. They really do. They love to read about non-human characters (though my book is not completely that. Which made me wonder, why are not more writers writing ghosts stories? I asked them which authors they read and most replied RL Stine or other American authors. Why are they not reading Indian authors?

Winning is important for them. Every workshop ends with some kid or even adult asking: So who won? When I say no one, there’s an anti-climactic feeling, a let down feeling. Has competition become so necessary to our society? Who wants them to win? Themselves or their parents?

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