cover image Akimbo and the Elephants

Akimbo and the Elephants

Alexander McCall Smith, , illus. by LeUyen Pham. . Bloomsbury, $9.95 (68pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-686-1

This fast-paced tale launches Smith's (the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mysteries) paper-over-board series starring Akimbo, who lives on the edge of an African game reserve. The lad is horrified when he and his ranger father come across a dead elephant, the victim of a gang of poachers who have killed it for its tusks. The boy surreptitiously takes a tusk from his father's storeroom as bait and promises to lead a poacher to a stash of another gang's booty if the man will teach him how they kill their prey. The narrative at times errs on the side of melodrama (e.g., watching the fallen elephant's calf wait for its mother to get up, Akimbo "declared war on the poachers"), but Smith effectively builds suspense. The boy realizes he is being stalked by an animal in the darkness, then narrowly escapes from a charging rhino. Akimbo emerges as a hero after leading his father and another ranger back to the poachers. The tale's brevity, Smith's concise writing and Pham's evocative full-page half-tone illustrations make this an attractive choice for reluctant readers. Akimbo and the Lions (1-58234-687-9) is also due out this month. Ages 7-up. (Sept.)