Luring children into reading once again

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Swedish author's detective series “LasseMaja” has been translated into 20 languages

Telling a new story: Swedish author Martin Widmark (left) and his son Johannes Andre (right) at the Swedish Embassy in New Delhi on Friday. Photos: Shanker Chakravarty
Telling a new story: Swedish author Martin Widmark (left) and his son Johannes Andre (right) at the Swedish Embassy in New Delhi on Friday. Photos: Shanker Chakravarty

In a world where children are increasingly becoming dependent on electronic media and the Internet, writing a series of books that keep them hooked is no mean task. That is exactly what Swedish author Martin Widmark has achieved through his detective series “LasseMaja”, which has been translated into over 20 languages.

“You can choose to compete [with different media], but the big challenge is to go down…in tempo and relax. When you get into an agreement with a child that this [reading] will take a few hours, they will read on their own,” says Mr. Widmark, who is in India for a short trip.

The author, who is also considered “the Agatha Christie for children”, started out by telling his son a story. “My son wanted to know how to catch a tiger. I told him a story about it and that is how my first book came out,” he says.

A teacher at that time, Mr. Widmark found children's reading an extremely interesting subject. The “LasseMaja” series, translated as “JerryMaya” series in English, is about two school friends, Jerry and Maya, who run a detective agency and help solve problems in the fictitious little town of Valleby.

“Get a child to read and you can change his entire world,” says Mr. Widmark, adding that once a child learns to appreciate a story written by another person, it opens the door for the child to appreciate empathetic thinking.

The “LasseMaja” series, with over 20 books till date, is written in simple language and illustrated for seven to nine year olds. “It is important to put challenges into the child's mind…[so I] write in basic language but deal with complicated things,” says the author, adding that illustrations in his books make reading faster and add information not mentioned in the text.

But why write a series of stories about a children's detective agency? “Children are curious to know things about adults,” explains Mr. Widmark. The two young detectives in his books help adults solve problems. The author further says children are fascinated by things and people like a thief, who are considered “unacceptable” in society.

This is his second visit to India and Mr. Widmark says much has changed in the years since he first visited the country in 1992 as a backpacker. “I find a new sense of pride in Indian people about their origin now,” he says. Having interacted with children from two Delhi schools on Thursday and Friday, the author says he found them “extremely intelligent and trained in the detective way of thinking”.

Mr. Widmark's first book, “How to catch a tiger”, which he wrote for his then nine-year old son Johannes André, also ended in India. Which is why the now 16-year-old is thrilled about having accompanied his father to the country. “The people here are very kind. When I speak to my friends back home and tell them about the things here, they feel amazed,” says Johannes, who is looking forward to his visit to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur.




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