A review by Nayana Chakrabarti, Abhigyan Bhattacharya and Aryahi Bhattacharya

The happiest post is one that brings books, don’t you agree? Our family was very lucky to receive the complete ‘Dev and Ollie’ series by Shweta Agarwal and illustrated by Somnath Chatterji. Featuring a multicultural protagonist, the three picture books are not only timely but also incredibly fun.

The Dev and Ollie series features three books in total: Kite Crazy; Colour Carnival; Camel Caper. Each book takes Dev, our intrepid British-Indian protagonist on a helter-skelter journey into and through a different Indian festival. I was, naturally, hooked by the premise. What’s more (and possibly more telling) is that my children were, too! My son responded really well to Dev. He has never seen a British-Indian protagonist in a picture book before while my daughter agreed that Dev looked like ‘Dada’ (older brother).

You see, representation matters; and when children see themselves in the literature that they read, they react with joy and recognition. Ollie is the magical owl who acts as Dev’s friend, philosopher and guide.

Kai Po Che!

‘Kite Crazy’ is set against the backdrop of Gujarat’s kite festival. ‘Uttarayan’, or the International Kite Festival hosts visitors from all over India and it is popular with international participants as well. However, in spite of this, it is not an incredibly well-known festival beyond India and beyond kite-flying enthusiast. Kite Crazy attempts to change that by introducing the festival to a new, younger and inquisitive audience. Dev arrives (with Ollie guiding) in Gujarat, but his crash landing wreaks havoc and mayhem. He seeks to make amends and, in the process, he makes new friends and also learns how to fly a kite. He visits the Rann of Kutch described in the book as ‘the salt desert’. I really appreciated the fact that with the aid of this book, my third culture kids (TCKs) were being introduced to the language, customs, cultures and landscapes that they did not otherwise have ready access to.

Bura Na Mano Holi Hai!

‘Colour Carnival’ is all about the festival of Holi. Now, Holi is well known and needs no introduction. In fact, there are lots of books about Holi. What makes this book different? Well, I think it’s all about the journey of someone’s transformation from being, at first, reluctant to engage with colours and Holi, into someone who is keen to explore something new. Dev’s journey takes him to Agra this time where he meets children of his own age who tutor him in how to play as well as the ‘Holi spirit’. My daughter is fastidious when it comes to cleanliness and mess and I could see how this book resonated with her. It was reassuring and addresses the anxiety that many TCKs have when engaging with festivals beyond the daily scope of their experience.

Mooch nahin toh kuchh nahin!

The subheading will make sense in a moment, I promise!

I think this might be the first picture book I have ever read which feature camels in a prominent role! ‘Camel Caper’ is set in Rajasthan, in Pushkar. After spotting the fact the camels have gone missing at London Zoo, Ollie takes it upon himself to introduce Dev to the Pushkar Camel Fair. Naturally, not only does Dev learn about the camel race, he participates in it, too. This book has more than a dollop of rollicking adventure thrown in for good measure.

While we shouldn’t have favourites, I’m afraid we did love this one the best. It was brilliantly silly, and we all had a good giggle. In the end, Ollie also ensures that Dev swings by the ‘Moustache Competition’ at the fair which naturally tickles the funny bones of readers of all ages, shapes and sizes.

How to read the Dev and Ollie books

The hallmark of a good picture book is one which brings together the words and the pictures to inform and also generate conversation. Crucially and helpfully, the picture books are not dumbed down. Younger readers will enjoy exploring the illustrations and the experience of being read-aloud to while older readers will be able to read for themselves and expand on their vocabulary. Indeed, the bright and colourful illustrations expand on the worlds of the stories and create the kind of discursive atmosphere which research has shown benefits developing readers.

In terms of the message, the ‘Dev and Ollie’ series is actually unique. There’s a certain pattern in which all three of the narratives unfold: a prologue-like event which acts as a springboard for Dev’s curious mind and Ollie’s exploratory instincts; the journey and experience of the festival itself and an epilogue whereby Dev and Ollie encounter unique an Indian landscape or an Indian landmark or a cultural event. These repetitive structures make for good storytelling practice and by giving your children a prompt, you can invite them to create stories themselves.

We really enjoyed all three books and we are looking forward to more Dev and Ollie adventures!

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