The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean (Harriet Bean Series)

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From the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series!

Knopf Canada is very proud to announce the first-ever Canadian publication of bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith’s books for young readers, featuring the extraordinary Harriet Bean.

In the first book, The Lost Five Aunts of Harriet Bean, Alexander McCall Smith takes readers into the world of 9-year-old Harriet, who lives alone with her father, an absentminded inventor of ...

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From the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series!

Knopf Canada is very proud to announce the first-ever Canadian publication of bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith’s books for young readers, featuring the extraordinary Harriet Bean.

In the first book, The Lost Five Aunts of Harriet Bean, Alexander McCall Smith takes readers into the world of 9-year-old Harriet, who lives alone with her father, an absentminded inventor of extraordinary but useless things. When Harriet’s father tells her one day that she has five aunts–his sisters–that he’s never told her about before, and with whom he tragically lost touch in childhood, Harriet is delighted, and determined to track down each of her colourful aunts one-by-one. Will Harriet Bean be able to reunite her father and his sisters–Veronica, Harmonica, Majolica, and the twins, Japonica and Thessalonika?

“Strangely enough, I didn’t even know I had any aunts until I was nine. Then, quite out the blue, my father said to me one day:

‘Your aunts would like to hear about that!’

I forget what it was my aunts would have liked to hear about–I was so astonished to hear that they even existed.

‘Aunts?’ I said in surprise. ‘What aunts?’

‘Oh,’ said my father, rather vaguely, as if it weren’t at all important. ‘All those aunts of yours. You know–my sisters. All those aunts you have.’”
–Excerpt from The Lost Five Aunts of Harriet Bean

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This paper-over-board caper, the first in a series by adult mystery writer Smith, combines humor and intrigue as it introduces a plucky aspiring sleuth. Nine-year-old Harriet Bean learns that her absent-minded father, an inventor of "useless" devices, has five sisters. She is astonished at the news and at the fact that her father has lost track of them ("But what happened?... You can't have lost my aunts just like that," says she). Harriet's father reveals that his farming family, stricken by poverty, had to split up the siblings as children. He then shows Harriet an unfinished painting of him and his sisters as youngsters, explaining that his father couldn't afford to pay the artist to complete it. Harriet decides to track down her aunts so that the portrait ("with blanks where the heads should be") can be completed. Harriet's search leads to some amusingly madcap moments: Aunt Veronica, who performs as a strong woman in a circus, saves Harriet's dad from an elephant's stranglehold. And when they then track down Aunt Harmonica, an opera singer and ventriloquist, Veronica holds her sister upside-down so that she can sing after she begins choking on a lozenge just as the curtain rises. The remaining aunts possess a bit less pizzazz. Yet Smith adds ample comic twists to keep kids entertained, and Rankin's (The Handmade Alphabet) playful pictures (especially an artist's resourceful solution to the portrait problem) will likely bring readers back for Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats. Ages 7-9. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-An offhand comment from her father sets nine-year-old Harriet Bean on the path of finding the five aunts whom she has never known. This seems like the perfect start of a juicy family mystery but it never quite turns into one. When given the full story of her father's loss of his five older sisters and a clue to the whereabouts of one of them, Harriet embarks on a hasty journey of collection. Useful coincidences make the women ridiculously easy to locate; it also helps that the final two are mind readers and come seeking her. The real mystery is how the father can possibly be absentminded enough to misplace five sisters. All of them are likable characters with interesting personality quirks and gadgets: strong-woman Veronica uses pedal power to drive her circus trailer from city to city, and twin detectives Thessalonika and Japonica are masters of disguise with convincing costumes. It is these two who give Harriet the chance to solve a mystery in the sequel, which takes place at a racetrack's stables. Masquerading as a jockey, Harriet is confronted with a villain who uses glue to stick a horse's feet to the floor so that he won't run well the next day. It's contrived stuff such as this that takes most of the charm out of this easy chapter-book series.-Kathleen Meulen, Blakely Elementary School, Bainbridge Island, WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Smith is back with another series for young readers, this time with a girl as the protagonist. Harriet Bean, like Smith's beloved adult book characters, has an interest in detective work. When her father casually mentions that he has five sisters, Harriet is intrigued. And when her father shows her an unfinished family portrait, Harriet decides to find her aunts and complete the painting. Like the Chinese brothers, these sisters have special powers: One is strong, another bossy, the twins can read minds and the last is a master singer and ventriloquist. Short on believability but long on fun, this first Harriet Bean shows promise. Unfortunately, the second installment, Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats is not as charming and hardly involves the aunts at all. The mindreading twins, who run their own detective agency, call on Harriet to help them with a case. With characters ridiculously named Ed, Ted and Fred, Harriet masquerades as a jockey so she can find out why a racehorse trainer's horses are suddenly losing races. Yawn. (illustrations not seen) (Fiction. 79)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582349756
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/2/2006
  • Series: Harriet Bean Series
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 96
  • Age range: 7 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.29 (w) x 7.61 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and of The Sunday Philosophy Club series. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana and at Edinburgh University. He lives in Scotland.

Laura Rankin has illustrated several picture books, including The Wriggly, Wriggly Baby, The Handmade Alphabet, which won a Boston Globe — Horn Book Honor, and Rabbit Ears. She lives in York Beach, Maine.


Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2006

    THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    the first day i got it, i already read half the book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!i could have read the whole book, but, i had 2 go 2 bed,so, i read the other half the minute i woke up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this book is a-must-have, very, very, very, very highly reccommended!!!!!!!!:)

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted January 9, 2009

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