Gumshoe Gumdrops: Ten Kid Detectives Who Make Investigations Look Easy
By Annie Cooper
Detective work is one of the most prestigious and respected assignments on a police force. Officers must work their way up the department ladder, putting in hard time on the beat before earning a coveted spot as an investigator. They must display the keen insight of Monk, the tenacious nature of Kojak, and, ideally, the smart pantsuits of Jessica Fletcher. An affable Columbo-esque nature doesn’t hurt, either.
It takes a special individual to gracefully combine all these attributes – a grace that typically comes with the wisdom of age. Thing is, a handful of young tykes out there in TV and Movieland, eager to get to the bottom of things, have been usurping that notion for years. They have the detective skillset all wrapped up… and a healthy work-life balance.
KoldCast TV’s Ruby Skye P.I. is the latest and greatest. Whether she’s trying to parse out the truth behind an internet scam or negotiate the delicate social web of high school, this teen investigator follows in the footsteps of several famous young gumshoes who came before her. Take a look back at some of pop culture’s wee sneaky sleuths, who prove you don’t need the body hair of Magnum P.I. to bring the bad guys to justice.
Click to watch Chapter One of Ruby Skye P.I., “Animal Farm”.
Missing brownies. A nutty neighbor starving her fake pets. A disappearing best friend. A mysterious scam. Just a normal day in the life of Ruby Skye P.I.
There are volumes upon volumes of feminist literary critique about dear, sweet Nancy, trying to assess the impressive impact and influence she has on American women. She is an expert driver and boat captain, proficient with firearms, a fluent French speaker, and, if book jackets tell us anything, really knows how to work a smart plaid skirt. Nancy Drew is the girl next door with a little more. She possesses brains and feistiness that set her apart from other female characters of her day. Though she may have undergone a few makeovers since her creation in 1930, Nancy has never lost the independent spirit that makes millions of girls stay up late, reading under the covers to find out just what happened to that Old Clock, or on Larkspur Lane, or in the Whistling Bagpipes.
The Scooby Doo Gang
Sure, they had kind of stupid haircuts and neckerchiefs, and sure, there was more action in the van between Shaggy and Scooby than between any of the other three (seemingly) able-bodied teens. But those meddling kids and their inexplicable dog companion charmed us every afternoon with their wacky ghost chase montages. We didn’t question it then, but the biggest mystery in of all this is why the heck they have a semi-verbal dog! Why didn’t any of the sneaky old men, (you know, the ones that were always caught trying to project swamp monsters onto castle walls), just grab Scooby, throw him into the back of an unmarked van, and hit the carnival circuit?
He might seem a little dated now, what with his quarter-a-day expenses and garage-based headquarters. But back when he first appeared, Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown introduced millions of kids to the mystery format we recognize today. With the help of his “bodyguard” Sally, (Oh, you can cut the tension with a knife in that relationship! Sigh. Not really.), Brown uses brains, not brawn, to take down the neighborhood baddies by seeking out mistakes and inconsistencies in their stories and alibis. The popular books inspired a comic strip and a brief HBO series, neither of which caught on. We think a modernized re-boot is in order. Perhaps they could call him “Wikipedia Brown’?
The Bloodhound Gang
If your parents only let you watch PBS while all your friends were watching He-Man, you’ll understand the following phone greeting: “Bloodhound Detective Agency. Whenever there’s trouble, we’re there on the double. Mr. Bloodhound isn’t here.” It’s not the quickest way to take a call, but it sure lets folks know they hadn’t dialed the bakery. The teenage mystery solvers of “3-2-1 Contact”, along with their younger sidekicks, used their knowledge of basic science concepts to solve crimes. Wearing super shiny windbreakers, they ran all over the city, evading danger, sneaking around behind dumpsters, and being accompanied by funky guitars. The segment was officially dropped from the show in 1986, but it took the cast until 1989 to hear the news, because it took them that long to finish answering answer the damn phone.!
Click to watch Chapter Two of Ruby Skye P.I., “Kay Eye Ess Ess…”.
Here’s what Ruby knows so far: someone scammed Mrs. Gooje out of a lot of money and the scam email was sent from Ruby’s school, the Dragon Academy. So Ruby is on the lookout for someone at school who recently came into money.
Harriet the Spy
This spunky 11-year-old first showed up in the beloved 1964 book by Louise Fitzhugh. Her story, of a girl whose fantasy to become a real spy causes trouble and hurt for the people she cares about most, is so relatable to tweens that she continues to appear in updated incarnations. A 1996 movie featured “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”s Michelle Trachtenburg in the lead role, with Rosie O’Donnell as her beloved nanny, Ole Golly. And the covert spying action of the 2010 version was centered around blogs, so we can only imagine that the focus of the next one will most likely be… someone hacking Twitter.
So apparently this kid Max received a magic ball cap inside a chicken statue, and somehow, that made him start traipsing around the universe with a bird-man and Viking, solving paranormal and historical mysteries. Sounds weird, but trust us, it worked. Mighty Max may have started as a marketing ploy to sell a toy line, but its dark, creative story lines set it apart from other children’s programming of the early ‘90s. Whatever. Anything that stars Tim Curry as something called “Skullmaster” is okay by us.
Sure, Inspector Gadget had all the cool toys, but everyone knows that his niece, the studious, pig-tailed Penny, was the reason he didn’t ever accidentally steamroll himself when he tried to reach for a roll of toilet paper. With a faithful assist from Brain the Dog, Penny used the forerunner to the iPad, her secret book-computer and wristwatch-communication-thingie, to make sure the Inspector got the job done, and often placed herself in danger in order to do so. We sincerely hope she took a break from all that nonsense to go to college, (preferably MIT), and that Brain retired to a humdrum doggie life of sniffing, scratching, and pooping on the carpet.
Carmen and her brother Juni think they’re living a totally boring suburban existence, until they discover that their totally boring suburban parents are actually retired super-spies. When their folks are kidnapped by the host of a bizarre children’s show, the duo are thrown into a world much more exciting – and dangerous – than the one they thought they were in. This is a wonderfully weird movie, featuring creatures with bodies made of thumbs and creepy child robots. We wouldn’t expect anything less from a children’s movie written and directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Click to watch Chapter Three of Ruby Skye P.I., “Break-In”.
Ruby proves herself a master of the art of distraction – and pretty good at Rock, Paper, Scissors too. Hailey does some hacking. And the clues all point in the wrong direction.
Mixing teen angst with small-town murder is always a tricky task, but this smart series did it with fun and grace from 2004-2007 – a far too brief three seasons. Following the murder of her best friend Lily Kane, Veronica’s father Keith Mars is ousted as sheriff of their town for implicating the victim’s father in the crime. Keith and Veronica start up a private investigation firm and get to work solving smaller mysteries, all the while trying to find Lily’s true killer. Though its run was short, Veronica Mars launched the career of Kristen Bell and Amanda Seyfried, for which scores of adolescent boys will be forever grateful.
Richard Scarry’s anthropomorphic critters are doing more than teaching the alphabet these days. They’re finding out who stole all the red roses off the bushes in Granny Goat’s garden (SPOILER: it was the robot), or who took a giant bite out of the Mouse Family’s cheese car (SPOILER: it was us. Sorry, we just love cheese.). Huckle Cat, his sister Sally, and their wormy friend Lowly use mystery solving to teach the scientific method, and they always get the job done, despite the interference of those annoying brats, Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Hey, toddlers deserve intrigue, too.
Honorable Mention: The Hardy Boys
The Boys get a runner-up trophy here because though they debuted before Nancy, and their popularity was the reason she was created, they’re just…not as cool. Sorry boys. We’re sure you have a lucrative career in real estate ahead of you, though.
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Annie Cooper is a writer, armchair public transportation advocate, and aspiring taco critic. She has written columns and specialized training materials related to children with special needs, parenting issues, and early childhood development. Her writings are geared toward therapists, social workers, and teachers of young children with complex medical and developmental issues. She recently left her job in social services in an effort to become part of the problem, rather than the solution. Annie lives in Los Angeles, but she’s not from there – nobody’s from there.