From the Publisher
"If you’re lucky, you’ve met sleuth Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries for adults. Now in The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, second in Smith’s series for children, young readers get a chance to follow her adventures.... The book is written with the ease of a consummate storyteller, while Iain McInstosh’s woodcuts enliven the text and handsomely depict the terrain, people and animal life of Botswana."
"A marvelous chapter book ideal for young readers, and, really, all fans of McCall Smith."
Booklist (starred review)
“Kids will love this kind and clever new detective.”
—Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Honor–winning author of Lily’s Crossing
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4—Kind, clever, and compassionate Precious Ramotswe is always eager to hone her budding detective skills. When newcomers Pontsho and Teb can't find their much-needed cow, she uses her quick wit and clue-finding skills to come to their aid. This installment in the series is sure to please fans and grab new readers. The story is fun and light, with the perfect amount of suspense to keep young readers wanting more. Set on the hills and plains of Botswana, McCall Smith's story's descriptive language takes readers there and will leave them wanting to learn more about this beautiful land. The block-print style illustrations, done in black, gray, and white with lots of touches of red, create interest and intrigue, yet artfully allow readers the luxury of using their imaginations to develop the plot and characters fully. This book will enhance all library collections, especially those eager to include fiction that gives a slice of life in another country. Perfect as a read-aloud or for beginning chapter readers.—Amy Shepherd, St. Anne's Episcopal School, Middleton, DE
Young Precious Ramotswe hones her detective skills with some new friends. Pontsho and Teb are new in school, and Precious hopes to be their friend. By asking just a few careful questions, Precious finds out a lot. She learns that the children are poor and that their father had been killed by lightning. Precious is sensitive and empathetic, and soon the three--and the siblings' pet meerkat, Kosi--are fast friends. Kosi is endlessly fascinating and very talented, Precious learns. It takes her keen observational skills and the natural talents of the meerkat to save Pontsho and Teb's family from disaster. Fast-paced action is interspersed with family stories, making this an especially winning story for very young readers. Occasional direct address to readers harkens back to an earlier storytelling style. Stunning black-and-white illustrations, reminiscent of woodcuts and etchings, grace most spreads, adding an old-fashioned feel to the story. The map of Africa (with Botswana highlighted) on the first page provides welcome information. Precious is sensitive and grounded, open and understanding--perfect qualities for the detective she is destined to be. The mystery is easily solved, but it still requires that readers pay attention to the clues left along the way. Subtly dealing with social issues of poverty, Precious' second outing as a youngster charms. (Mystery. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from Chapter One
THIS IS THE STORY of a girl called Precious. It is also the story of a boy whose name was Pontsho, and of another girl who had a very long name. Sometimes people who have a very long name fi nd it easier to shorten it. So this other girl was called Teb. There is no room here, I’m afraid, to give her full name, as that would take up quite a few lines. So, like everybody else, we’ll call her Teb.
Precious’s last name was Ramotswe, which sounds like this—RAM—OT—SWEE. There: try it yourself—it’s not hard to say. She lived in a country called Botswana, which is in Africa. Botswana is very beautiful—it has wide plains that seem to go on and on as far as the eye can see, until they join the sky, which is high and empty.
Sometimes, you know, when you look up at an empty sky, it seems as if it’s singing. It is very odd, but that is how it seems.
There are hills that pop up on these plains. The hills look rather like islands, and the plains look a bit like the sea.
Precious lived with her father, Obed, in a small house outside a village. Obed was a good, kind man who wore a rather battered old hat. That hat was well-known in the village and even further away.
“Here he comes!” people would say when they saw his hat in the distance. “Here comes Obed!”
On one occasion Obed lost his hat while walking home in the dark. A wind blew up and lifted it right off his head, and because there was no light he was unable to find it. The next day, when he went back to the place where he had lost the hat, there was still no sign of it. He searched and searched, but without success.
“You could buy a new one, Daddy,” Precious suggested.
Obed shook his head. “A new hat is never as comfortable as an old one,” he said. “And I loved that hat.” He paused, looking up at his daughter. “It saved my life, you know.”
Precious wondered how a hat could save your life. “Please tell me the story,” she said. She loved her father’s stories ,especially when he told them at bedtime.There is something very exciting about a bedtime story, and it is even better if the story is told after the lights have been turned out. The words sound different—as if they are being whispered just for you and for nobody else. The words are all around you, like a warm blanket.
So Obed told her about the hat that evening, when it was already dark outside and the African sky was filling with stars.
“Quite a few years ago,” he began, “before you were even born, I worked for a while on a farm. It was a very dry place, as there was not much rain in that part of the country. But each year the rains came, and the land would turn green as the plants returned to life. That could happen so quickly—sometimes overnight.
“My job was to see that the cattle were getting water to drink. We had to pump the water up from deep wells. Then the cattle could satisfy their thirst. I had to go and check that everything was working properly and fix it if it was not.
“Now, it was rather remote and empty down there, and although there were no lions, there were other wild animals—and birds. And this is all about one of those birds—a very dangerous bird.”
Precious interrupted him. “Birds can’t be dangerous,” she said, laughing at the thought. “Birds are far too small.”
Obed shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong, my darling. There are some birds that are very big.”
“An eagle?” asked Precious.
“Bigger than that. Much bigger.”
She thought and thought, and was still thinking when Obed said: “An ostrich!
“An ostrich,” her father went on, “is much bigger than a man, and yes, it can be very dangerous. You have to be very careful if you get too close to an ostrich because they can kick. They have these very strong legs, you see, and at the end of one of them there is a claw. You can be very badly hurt by an ostrich kick—very, very badly hurt.”
Precious shivered. Sometimes her father’s stories were a little bit frightening, even if they usually ended well.
“Now,” Obed continued, “I was walking through the bush one day, looking for some stray cattle, and suddenly I heard a noise. It was a very strange noise, and I stopped in my tracks wondering what it was. Then I saw it. Not far away from me, looking at me with those big angry eyes that they have, was an ostrich. And I knew right away that I had disturbed this creature and that it was about to attack me. The reason why it was so angry was that I had come too close to its nest. These birds make large nests on the ground in which they lay massive eggs. Think of a hen’s egg. Then think of an egg twenty times bigger than that—that’s an ostrich egg.
“Suddenly I remembered something I had been told, and it was just as well it came back to me. Looking down on the ground, I saw a long stick that had fallen from a nearby tree. I picked this up and put my hat on the end of this stick. Then I held it up high in the air—like this.
“Ostriches may be strong, but they are not very bright. I had remembered being told that if you put your hat on a stick and then held it up high, an ostrich would think that the hat was your head. They would also think that you were much taller than they were, and so they would leave you alone. And, do you know, it worked! The ostrich saw my hat and thought I must be a very tall and strong creature—more than a match for her. So she backed off and I was able to continue on my way unkicked.”
Precious breathed a sigh of relief. She did not want her father to be kicked by an ostrich—who does?
“I’m glad it worked out well for you,” she said.
“Thank you,” said her father. “And now you go off to sleep, Precious, as you must be ready for school tomorrow morning.”
Precious closed her eyes and thought of school. She had heard that there was a new family coming to the school the next day—a boy and a girl—and she wondered what they would be like. New people are always interesting, and she thought that perhaps they might be her friends. It was good, she thought, to have old friends, but it was also good to have new ones.
But what about the lost hat? Did Obed get it back after it had blown away? Yes, he did. It landed a long way away but when people picked it up they knew immediately whose it was, and it was returned to him a few days later none the worse for its adventure. Of course he was very pleased, and from that day onwards whenever there was a high wind, he held onto his hat very firmly. Which is what all of us should do, don’t you think?