Fiction from the African Game Reserve

Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith.
Akimbo and the Lions.
Akimbo and the Snakes.
Akimbo and the Baboons.
Akimbo and the Crocodile Man.

Yes, this series of easy-to-read chapter books was written by the same Alexander McCall Smith who penned the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series for adults. I have enjoyed almost all of McCall Smith’s adult fiction titles, and I must say that Akimbo captured my heart, too. I read Akimbo and the Elephants in which Akimbo, who lives “in the heart of Africa” and “on the edge of a large game reserve,” bravely foils the plans of a gang of elephant poachers.

The prose was easy to read and still engaging. The print is nice and bold, and the entire story is only sixty-eight pages long. This one would appeal to seven to ten year olds and be simple without becoming boringly babyish. The hero of the story, Akimbo, is about eight or nine years old, and if his adventure is a bit unbelievable, it’s the kind of escapade an eight or nine year old boy would like to perform. The illustrations are by LeUyen Pham, the same artist who did the Alvin Ho books, and if I ever write a book, I want her to illustrate it. Look at Akimbo on the cover. Isn’t he the epitome of boyish mischief and bravery?

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John.
Dolphin Song.
The Last Leopard.
The Elephant’s Tale.

Of this series, called Legend of the Animal Healer, I read the first and second books. The series is set on a game reserve in South Africa, and the protagonist this time is a girl, Martine, who has a special gift for understanding and healing animals. In The White Giraffe Martine becomes friends with a one-of-a-kind white giraffe named Jeremiah (Jemmy for short), and together the two again foil the plans of a gang of poachers. There’s a mystical element to the story since Martine is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy and carries a special gift related to animals that she must learn to use wisely, and the underlying message of the story keeps edging from ecological responsibility over into nature worshipp-y silliness. But in the first two books at least, that second message is subtle enough to be ignored if you want.

The bad guys in Dolphin Song are not exactly poachers, and the action in this one moves to the ocean and the islands off the west coast of South Africa near Mozambique. Martine is still saving endangered animals, dolphins this time, and the story is again exciting and suspenseful and a bit mysterious and magical. However, Martine comes across as a real girl with her own problems getting along with her family and making friends with her classmates. These stories are for a little older age group than the Akimbo books, nine to twelve years old, I’d guess.

I recommend Akimbo and the Animal Healer books to any children who are interested in books set in Africa or fascinated by African animals and their preservation. I’ve been reading quite a few books set in Africa lately, and these are some of the best children’s books I’ve found so far.

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