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Have your cake and read it, too

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case by Alexander McCall SmithPrequels are trending, especially those that take readers back to the childhoods of established characters: Alice McKinley, the Baby-Sitters Club girls, Bartimaeus, even James Bond and Carrie Bradshaw. Now Alexander McCall Smith has jumped on the bandwagon (or should I say tiny white van?) with an early chapter book featuring a young and pre–traditionally built Precious Ramotswe, star of the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mystery series for adults.

Now, I doubt there are many second graders out there clamoring for a book of their own about the estimable Mma Ramotswe: The Great Cake Mystery (Anchor Books, April) is being released at the same time as the latest No. 1 Detective Agency novel, and it will likely be purchased by series fans with young readers in their lives quicker’n you can say “mother-daughter book group.”

Fortunately, The Great Cake Mystery transcends such cynicism. The mystery Precious solves—who is behind the spate of thefts on the school playground?—is audience-appropriate; the prose style is welcoming and intimate (“What would you do if you found yourself face to face with a great lion?”); the Botswana village setting is evoked clearly but simply; the page design is generous and inviting, with wide margins and plentiful spot illustrations. The book’s provenance is unusual (it was originally published in a Scots-language edition), and the plot borrows liberally from “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” (with a bit of Caps for Sale thrown in), but the qualities that make the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series so popular and beloved are much in evidence here. Readers should take great pleasure in joining Precious as she solves her Very First Case.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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