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I confess that I am ekeing out the parcel of books that were sent to me by one of my favourite publishers, Barrington Stoke for review. After I have reviewed Good Dog Lion by Alexander McCall Smith there is only one book left, and where will I get my fix of fabulous, dyslexia friendly, age appropriate books to read then?

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Well, I will make do with the library, who seem to have picked up on my enthusiasm, and currently have lots of intriguing Barrington Stoke titles that I haven’t read yet.  Then I will raid the school shelves. The literacy co-ordinator at my son’s school has told me that their books are so popular that they have just placed an order ready for the new academic year in September. I shall look forward to shelving (for shelving I mean reading, them). After that I hope that one day, another wonderful parcel of joy will wing its way to me from Barrington Stoke themselves.

Yes. That is a huge, clanging hint with bells and whistles on.

I am you see, continuing to be delighted by what I read. I have quite genuinely not read a single duff title yet.

Let me tell you about Good Dog Lion.

It has all the usual qualities I look for from this publisher:

Great, clean, easy to read design on dyslexia friendly cream pages.

Easily digestible chapters.

Great style and eye appeal. The illustrations by David Dean really stood out for me with this book. Even the pages with no pictures have wonderful bands of African style patterns at the top and bottom of each page.

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The full page illustrations are so gorgeous I’d actually like to own prints of them. I particularly loved the image of the two boy heroes of the story, Timo and Babu tending to the sick dog they have found. It’s tender and appealing and wonderfully rendered. The colours are so vivid. They really sum up the Africa that Alexander McCall Smith so beautifully describes.

Alexander McCall Smith is probably best known to adult readers as the prolific author of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, amongst many others. I am a huge fan of his work, and have read widely across his output, except, until now, his work for children.  He has several standalone novels for children, as well as a series about the childhood of his most famous heroine, Precious Ramotswe.  This book however, tells the story of Timo and his mother.

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Timo lives in a small African village with his mum. His dad went off when Timo was four and never came back.  Timo’s mum works very hard to make ends meet, and things are not always easy for the family. Timo also works very hard to help his mum. He knows how important it is to keep the family together and food on the table, and he sacrifices playtimes, and football practices and his greatest desire for a dog, so that he can help her in her work.

Timo collects fruit and honey from the surrounding countryside and brings it home to his mum so that she can turn it into jam.  One day, Timo’s mum gets a very important order for her produce and asks Timo to go far out into the countryside to where she knows a bumper crop of fruit is.  This is quite dangerous, as there are all sorts of wild animals about, but Timo, accompanied by his loyal friend, Babu, makes the journey.

On the way back they find a sick dog, wounded by a snake bite, and carry it home. The love and care they lavish on the dog is paid back in spades at the end of the story. It quite brought a tear to my eye.

The book is recommended by Barrington Stoke as having a suitable reading age of 6 plus. I’d put the top age at ten or eleven for the average reader.  It has been given an interest rating of 5-8 years.  I think personally that it is quite a subtle and complex tale, and might well, presented properly, be of interest to children up to the end of KS2 (age 11). It would also make a wonderful bedtime story to share with younger readers.

I love the way McCall Smith is so sympathetic to Africa and its people. He does not shy away from showing how difficult life can be, and how different life is for African children and families to what we know in the west, but he does not patronise or talk down to the reader, or belittle the subject matter. This is a thoughtful and sweet tale that would appeal to both boys and girls.

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