I picked up The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith at the library because of its tagline: A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers. I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, so how could I not check out this short chapter book? This particular story has her traveling to the northern part of Botswana to visit her Aunty Bee who lives at a safari camp. Precious travels north riding in the back of a neighbor’s truck along with other people from their community. When she arrives at the safari camp she learns that the exciting event that Aunty Bee had hinted at in her letter was the filming of a nature-based movie at the camp. That meant that Precious would have the opportunity to “meet” Teddy the lion, one of the actors in the film. When Teddy comes up missing, it is up to Precious, the budding sleuth, to solve the mystery.
I read this one aloud to my girls, thinking that it might be a good fit for them and the DLM. Actually, I think the ideal age for this book is somewhere in between: the DLM, at almost five, wasn’t terribly interested in this gentle story and usually wandered out of the room while I was reading it, and the girls, at ages eleven and nine-and-a-half, probably wouldn’t have complained if I had quit reading it in the middle. LIke its adult counterparts, this novel is light on the mystery and heavy on the description and characterization. I, for one, love this sort of story, but I’m not sure it translates very well for children expecting a real mystery. Also, because of its brevity, it’s hard to feel like you’ve gotten to known the young Precious Ramotswe or her African home. For those of us familiar with the original stories, we can appreciate the many similarities: the wonderful descriptions of beautiful Botswana; the wisdom of the culture; the community; etc. With the right preparation, I do believe children could find enjoyment in this short novel. However, without adequate preparation the story falls a little flat due to its lack of excitement. I will say that one thing it has going for it for sure are the interesting illustrations by Iain McIntosh. In addition to plenty of lovely illustrations, there is also a good bit of helpful backmatter: a page of information about the geography and people of Botswana; a reader’s guide; and curriculum connections for teachers. I do wonder how this one would translate to audiobook. We’ve enjoyed quite a few of his other children’s stories in audiobook format, so maybe it was my reading that made it fall a little flat. I still think it might work better for just the right age child, too. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one and would definitely read the others in the series (there are three more so far) myself, whether my children wanted to go along for the ride or not. (Anchor Books, 2013)