Alexander McCall Smith
Price: INR 199
If the children’s book world could be divided into teams, my boss would seat herself firmly with the Team Picture Book section of the crowd. Inspite of her picture book leanings, she was the one who picked up and lent this book to me since it reminded her of Roald Dahl’s chocolate factory. It was upto me to find out if her suspicion was valid.
So let’s see. A bubblegum factory, the owner of which is worried because his supply of gum has stopped. No gum means his factory’s bubblegum becomes bubble-less. To fix the problem, he travels to India – accompanied by neighbourhood siblings Billy and Nicola – in search of the forest that grows the bubblegum trees and houses the friendly Bubblegummies.
Verdict? The factory, Smith’s version of the Oompa Loompas and the wonderstruck child companion (in this case, two of them). Roald Dahlesque it is!
Now that we’ve gotten the comparison out of the way, let’s move on to the actual book. I haven’t read Smith’s much-celebrated The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but I can see what made them popular. He has a simple matter-of-fact way of telling a story. The book has lots of action and adventure, but he writes about it in a way that doesn’t make it seem like such a big deal. For example, unlike modern parents, Billy and Nicola’s parents don’t mind their children going off on an adventure to a foreign land with the town’s bubblegum factory owner.
‘Off to India?’ said Billy’s father, when he told him of Mr. Gopal’s invitation. ‘In a flying boat? Sounds like splendid idea to me! I wish I could come too, but I’m just too busy at the moment.’
And the children’s mother said much the same thing.
‘The jungle!’ she exclaimed. ‘What a wonderful adventure! Of course you can go. But promise me you’ll be extremely careful of snakes and tigers, and things like that.’
And that’s that.
It reminds me of the books I used to read as a kid where the story itself was paramount – no clever gimmicks necessary. The story is full of clever solutions and quirky characters, all of which are presented in the same matter-of-fact style. Everyone seems to be very accepting of differences and surprises.
I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book, considering that most of the books I like aren’t simple and understated in their narrative style. But the story is the star here and justifiably made me rethink my requirements in a good book.