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The Mystery of Meerkat Hill

Last updated Monday, January 12, 2015

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Illustrator: Iain McIntosh
Date of Publication: 2013
ISBN: 0345804589
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jan. 2015

Synopsis: Precious wants to be a detective when she grows up. She is always practicing at being a detective by asking questions and finding out about other people’s lives. There are two new students in her class, a girl called Teb and a boy called Pontsho. She learns that they are brother and sister, and—even more exciting—that Pontsho has a clever pet meerkat named Kosi.

One day, Teb and Pontsho’s family’s cow disappears. Precious helps them look for clues to find the cow. But getting the cow back home will require some quick thinking and help from an unexpected source.

Note to readers:
•  Before you begin, you may want to find Botswana, the country where Precious grew up, on a map or globe. If the map/globe shows terrain, you may want to compare the terrain in Botswana & California. Botswana is land-locked and very dry, with periodic droughts and numerous dust storms.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Looking at the book cover, where do you think the story takes place? Hint: Where are meerkats found? (Botswana, Africa)
•  If you could have any exotic animal as a pet, what would it be?
•  How do you introduce yourself to new people at school or in your neighborhood?

•  precious - greatly loved, dear; of high price or great value
•  jostling - bumping, pushing, shoving, brushing against, or elbowing roughly or rudely
•  mongoose - any of various quick-moving mammals with a long slender body and long tail that are about the size of a ferret and feed chiefly on small animals and fruit
•  inject - to force a fluid into a part of the body
•  helter-skelter - in disorderly haste; in a haphazard manner
•  refuge - shelter or protection from danger or distress; a place that provides shelter or protection

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Have you ever been to the zoo? What animals did you see there?
•  Have you seen The Lion King? Timon is a meerkat!
•  What would you do to get rid of a poisonous snake?
•  Why did Pontsho ignore school rules and bring Kosi (his meerkat) with him to school?
•  Do you have any pets at home? What would your teacher or principal do if you brought your pet to school?
•  How did Kosi find the family's cow?

Craft ideas:
•  Make a Meerkat bookmark (see example): To make the bookmark, you need half a piece of construction paper. (You will be left with a piece that is about the size of a regular bookmark, which the children can decorate as well.) Take the piece of construction paper and cut in half, "hot-dog style" (length-wise). Fold the top about 1/3 down and cut along the folded line. Cut out the meerkat's head, nose & ears from this part. Fold the longer piece of the construction paper in half, so you have two, thin rectangles. Fold the bottom of one of the longer pieces up about 1 inch. Cut out legs for the meerkat, and attach its head to its body. Color in its eyes, mouth, toes & the fur patterns on its back. The children make another bookmark out of the other rectangle.
•  Have the kids complete a word search (provided).

Special activities:
•  The town, way of life and school described in the book are very different from Los Angeles and the school that the children are attending. Discuss the differences between education in the U.S. and abroad.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!