The Paka Mdogo Series – Books for Thinking Children (and Grown-Ups)

In the past ten weeks I’ve been back to the UK three times to help my mother move from the home she shared with my father for thirty-eight years. She isn’t sentimental about belongings, quickly earmarked what she needed to take to her new pad and gave the rest to charities, but she needed time to sift through her considerable library. Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, the Brontes, Dickens and other greats were set aside for her great-grandchildren who like her grandchildren and children, love books, and for a few hours we talked about the memories evoked by the well-thumbed, much-loved copies of Beatrix Potter, the Just So Stories and the Jackdaw of Rheims, which was given to my paternal grandmother in 1897 and feels and smells wonderfully old! This unpaginated  copy with fine sepia lithographs and bound with a gold silk cord has stood up well to the wear and tear generated by me, my three sisters and brother when we were kids. Sorting through the books got me thinking about the wealth of literature available for young ones today and immediately the author H.S. Toshack leapt to mind …

I met HS and his lovely wife Jan Gould in Bangkok, Thailand, and over the years we’ve forged a firm friendship. My husband and I have read and thoroughly enjoyed two of the three books about Sheena, a feisty cat whose adventures in Africa will appeal on many levels to readers of all ages. They are very entertaining reads – humorous, fast paced, exciting and at the same time serious. His thorough research and artful story-telling skills bring meerkats and other animals in the wilds of East Africa to vibrant life, and the illustrations are superb.

When asked which of his books is his favourite, HS nominated ‘The Meerkat Wars’ because he regards it as important. “Yes, children’s books can be that. Any book, in fact, that sets out to help reduce the amount of conflict in the world must be seen as important because the task itself is so crucial. Each time I visit the Middle East I’m made aware of how the message carried by ‘The Meerkat Wars’ applies here; but then there’s hardly an area of the world where it isn’t meaningful. How very true, and HS gets this vitally important message across without sounding pompous or preachy.

My great-nephews Ben and Tom Salter adored reading about Sheena’s adventures in ‘Paka Mdogo’ and, like me, they laughed out loud at the antics of the meerkats and the warthogs, related to Sheena’s discomfort when she is desperate to do a wee during a very long car journey and rooted for her when she outwits Nyanya, an old but ferocious lioness who plans to attack Sheena’s human family.

‘Paka Mdogo’, ‘The Gradual Elephant’ and ‘The Meerkat Wars’, are all available on Amazon and well worth buying for anyone who enjoys a fabulous read set in the thrilling African bush.

Sheena’s next adventure ‘The Smile of The Tiger’ will take place in Thailand. This book is emerging from H.S. Toshack’s four years there, but also from the terrible floods the country suffered a while ago.  He believes that even children’s stories involving fantastical happenings must have a basis in some kind of reality and should try to look towards a better future: “‘The Smile of the Tiger’”, he says, “may help remind us that good things can come out of bad situations, freedom can take many forms and we need to look after what is precious in the world.”

And as I lived in Thailand for twelve years, I absolutely will read it!

    In addition to the adventures of Sheena, aka Paka Mdogo, a clever and cheeky little black and white cat who repeatedly sneaks off with the Allen Family when they go on safari to the fictional Baragandiri National Park in Africa, H.S. Toshack writes literature study guides for pre-university students; but he is also the author of two novels, a dramatisation of ‘Animal Farm’, and several collections of poetry.

His books are available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

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