Saturday, September 24, 2011

Children’s Books: The Meerkat Wars by H.S. Toshack

You may have a hard time finding H.S. Toshack’s Paka Mdogo stories but, for children seven to 12, it should prove to be a challenge well worth the effort.

Toshack, a former English teacher and educational consultant, conceived of the series both as entertainment and, at a more subtle level, as working educational tools. To this end, he has created a full set of teaching and learning resources and made them available on the Web. “The main purpose of this extension,” it says on the site, “ … is not to publicize the series but to provide support to teachers who wish to use one or more of the books in the classroom.” And the attention to detail that has gone into these resources make this a credible claim.

As any teacher librarian will tell you, however, you can prepare material until the cow -- or the cat -- comes home, but that won’t ensure that children will care about your book.

Sheena is a domestic cat who is lost in a game park in Tanzania where the author was living when he wrote the first in the series, Paka Mdogo: Little Cat. In the first book, she is separated from her human family, and finds them just in time to save them from a terrible fate.

On their second trip to Baragandiri National Park, The Gradual Elephant, Sheena is again separated from the Allen family. While alone in the park, she teams up with Mpole, a 12-year-old African elephant who has been forced to leave the herd. Sheena helps him pass the tests necessary to become accepted as a young male.

In The Meerkat Wars, with the Allen family heading off on their safari in Baragandiri National Park, Sheena stows away in the back of the family Land Rover and so is on hand to help a young meerkat who’s been poisoned by a scorpion. Sheena discovers, however, that this is the least of the problems, as whole tribes of Meerkats seem to be at war with each other for reasons that the civilized cat initially finds inexplicable.

All three of the Paka Mdogo stories are charming. The moral lessons are present, but subtly presented and deftly handled and though the animals seem to have some very human concerns, in the end they are animals, still.

Author Toshack is working on additional books for this series and new adventures for Paka Mdogo. An increasingly long line of children can hardly wait. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author's name is not Toshak but Toshack.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 8:09:00 AM PDT  

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