The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, 90 pp, RL 2

The Mystery of the Missing Lion is the third book in Alexander McCall Smith's, brilliant chapter book series featuring the childhood incarnation of his adult novel heroine and owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe. The books are marvelously illustrated by Iain McIntosh and are unique when it comes to chapter books for so many reasons - girl detective, set in Botswana, non-white characters, African animals and amazing illustrations.

Before The Mystery of the Missing Lion is even on chapter two, McCall Smith has packed this chapter book full of fascinating information as we learn about Precious's favorite Aunty Bee who lives right up at the top of the country in the Okavango Delta where she finds amazing things to send Precious for her birthday presents. One year, Aunty Bee collected the quills from a porcupine and made a hat out of them for Precious! Another year she sent her a lucky bracelet made from rare elephant hairs purchased from a very skinny man who some said had been sat on  by an elephant. Aunty Bee also writes Precious letters telling her what is happening in the Delta. In her most recent letter, she invites Precious to spend part of her school holidays with her at Eagle Island Camp, telling her something very exciting is about to happen.

Her first day at Eagle Island Camp Precious learns that a movie crew is making a film in the Delta. She also meets Khumo (pronounced KOO- MOO.) As with all the books in this series, McCall Smith provides phonetic pronunciations for the trickier words, which is exceptional, as many beginning reader books have characters with tricky names like "Biscuit." Khumo explains hippos to Precious and introduces her to the "actor lion" the crew has brought in for the movie. Khumo and Precious make themselves useful to the film crew, even helping with Teddy, the actor lion, earning themselves sweet treats and eventually envelopes of money. Then Teddy disappears. Aunty Bee agrees to let Precious and Khumo take her canoe and go looking for Teddy, as long as they promise to be very careful. It's Precious's strong sense of right and wrong and her ability to do a spot-on guinea fowl impression, along with her sharp detective skills, that lead her to the missing actor lion and a happy ending.

I know I am repeating myself, but I feel like I can't say often enough what out of the ordinary plots, characters and settings McCall Smith brings to the frequently bland world of chapter books, and how happy this makes me. His plots are straightforward, the vocabulary is relatively easy and he has a great sense of playfulness in his writing. And, he has the inscrutable Precious.

More books in the series:

And coming soon . . . 

Source: Review Copy

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