Looking for stories worthy of review for middle grades reminds me of hunting mushrooms. I go to a likely place (a forest or a library), walk slowly and keep my eyes open. Often, just when I am ready to give up, there the little beauties are nestled on the forest floor — or the library shelf.
This month, my story hunt revealed a delightful treasure. Alexander McCall Smith, author of several adult series, has entered the world of children's literature. And he has chosen to introduce young readers to his most charming character, Precious Ramotswe.
Grown-up Precious is the proprietor of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Young Precious has all the qualities required to foreshadow the making of a successful detective, including a healthy curiosity and a talent for asking questions. However, Precious also has a qualities not generally found in detectives: a soft heart and a genuine concern for people.
In "The Meerkat Mystery," second in of the series, Precious befriends a brother and sister who are new to her school. The new children's family has even less material wealth than most Botswana folk. But they do have a unique pet: a meerkat. And when the one asset their family boasts is lost, Precious and the meerkat team up to trace it down.
McCall Smith's stories flow smoothly and keep his readers, young and old, turning pages. In his Precious Ramotswe stories the beauty of Africa and the respectful traditions of the Botswana people shine through. With seemingly effortless prose, and direct reader address style, he guides his readers gently through the African dry lands.
Along the way his readers learn not just about Africa, but about the importance of asking the right questions and about the rewards of unselfishness — treasures indeed for both young and old.
Ruth Siburt is the author of more than a dozen children's books in the educational field.