Saturday, May 5, 2012

Precious and the Monkeys by Alexander McCall Smith

I'm confused. This looks like an early chapter reader for grades 2-3. It reads like an early chapter reader. But the reading level is 5.6 which means the vocabulary is at a 5th grade level. Huh? Typo? I'd be curious what others think about that... Maybe I can get a grade 3 teacher to read it and give his or her opinion. Hmmm.

Meet Precious. And no, it's not Gollum, the horrible hobbit from Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings. But it is Precious from an adult mystery series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. Mma Precious Ramotswe owns a detective agency as an adult. This story is about Precious as a seven-year-old who becomes interested in detective work.

Precious Ramotswe's dad tells her exciting stories such as when he comes face to face with a lion and out-wits it by jumping in a covered grain bin. He makes the lion sneeze by tossing dusty bits from the bottom of the bin into it's face. The villagers hear the sneeze and scare the lion out of the village and away from her dad.  Precious says that her dad is the person who gave her the idea of becoming a detective. Her first case is at school and involves food that keeps disappearing from the corridor outside the classroom. Students start blaming one another without any proof and Precious decides to set a trap to catch the thief.

The author does a good job with repetition and explaining concepts that will help the early reader in understanding and decoding this tale. Precious is kind and thoughtful. She explains three things that make a good detective: one that asks questions, one that can tell when people are not telling the truth, and one that doesn't jump to conclusions but looks for evidence. There is humor throughout - I got kick out of the skinny cook echoing everything the big cook said because "it was safe." When the kids accuse another student of being a thief, everyone deserts him except Precious who says she is his friend and knows he's telling the truth when he says he didn't steal anything. This would make a nice read aloud with discussions around topics such as what happens when false rumors and accusations spread, how to stand up for what you believe in, and the importance of being kind to others.

The plot is predictable regarding who stole the food and Precious sounds too old for a  seven-year-old  at times, but I don't think it will matter to young readers. When Precious stands up for the boy I thought the dialogue sounded more like an adult preaching than a seven-year-old talking: "'It doesn't matter what people like that think,' she said. 'What matters is what your friends think. I'm your friend, and I know that you're telling the truth.'" Maybe if my husband didn't teach seven-year-olds it wouldn't have stood out. I know that a seven-year-old's speech is not that sophisticated.

It's fun to make connections between the character in the adult series and the younger Precious. I have not read the adult novel in a long time but I do remember she likes to cook and eat. In this story, she outwits the thief with her cooking, even though I found it hard to believe a seven-year-old could bake a cake. You might have to suspend your beliefs here and there, but this tale is sweet and worth reading.

P.S. That is the eBook title on OverDrive but when I looked for a photo I could only find the title,  The Great Cake Mystery.

Reading level 5.6

3 out of 5 Smileys

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