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Modern Copywork: No.1 Ladies Detective Agency

Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

Photo by Colin Watts on UnsplashI love books that transport me somewhere new, and Smith’s “Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series does just that. I get this urge to visit Botswana after reading these stories, and imagine I could go there and visit the characters. There are twenty books in the series, and the earthy groundedness of Precious Ramotswe will remind you of all that is good and decent in humanity. 


The second blog to go along with my Modern Copywork Series, I’ve gone through the books on my shelf by Alexander McCall Smith and noted the places I had underlined or put a heart by in the margin, to remember how potent that bit felt as I read it the first time. A prolific writer of multiple series in Scotland and Botswana, many of his books are for adult readers. A fair number are also for younger readers, including the Precious Ramotswe series and the School Ship Tobermory series. 


If you’ve never read any of Smith’s books set in Botswana, give one a try. In addition to teaching grammar and writing and spelling, you can easily work in other subject study. In history and geography classes, Africa often isn’t given as much time as other continents. These books are a way to bring stories and life into the study of this part of Africa.

The copywork:

Mma Ramotswe glanced out of the window; it was precisely the sort of morning she appreciated–not too hot, and yet with an empty, open sky, flooded with sunlight. This was the sort of morning that birds liked, she thought; when they could stretch their wings and sing out; the sort of morning when you could fill your lungs with air and inhale nothing but the fragrance of acacia and the grass and the sweet, sweet smell of cattle.  

The Full Cupboard of Life, 153


The donkey cart was a rickety affair, cobbled together with ancient painted boards and a chassis that had once belonged to a motor vehicle of some sort–an incongruous union of wood and metal, but serviceable enough. … Riding in the cart, on a battered old red-leather seat saved from a car somewhere, was an elderly man. At the end of the reins he held were two donkeys, yoked side by side, pulling the cart with that somnolent acceptance–resignation, even–that marks their breed. Their steps, taken on small black hooves, were sure enough but slow; they would be faster on the return journey, with the smell of home in their nostrils, but for the moment there was no rush.     

 Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, 182


Pula, pula, pula!  Was the cry of triumph, of joy, that was universal in Botswana. It meant rain, rain, rain–just the right cry for a dry country that lived for the day that the first life-giving rains arrived–that day of ominous purple skies, and heat, adn the wind that precede the first drops of water splattering and dancing on the baked ground. Pula, pula, pula!         

 Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, 187


They sat together on the verandah, mugs of tea in hand. The sky was of that colour which it assumed at the end of the day–a late afternoon colour of tired blue–and was great and empty. On the leaves of the acacia trees that grew here and there in the garden, the gentle rays of the afternoon sun fell forgivingly, as if the battle between heat and life, between red and green, was temporarily over.              

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, 65


The old woman said nothing for a moment, and Mma Ramotswe kept her arm about her shoulder. It was a strange feeling, she had always thought; feeling the breathing of another, a reminder of how we all share the same air, and of how fragile we are. At least there was enough air in the world for everybody to breathe, at least people did not fight with one another over that.

 In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, 172


But in those days, on the way to school, whether riding in state on the water cart or walking along the side of that dusty road with her friends, she had school to think about, with its lessons on so many subjects–the history of Botswana, from the beginning, when it was known as Khama’s country, across the plains of which great lions walked, to the emergence of the new Botswana, then still a chrysalis in a dangerous world; writing lessons, with the letters of the alphabet being described in white chalk on an ancient blackboard, all whirls and loops; arithmetic, with its puzzling multiplications tables that needed to be learned by heart–when there was so much else that the heart had to learn.     

Teatime for the Traditionally Built, 4


That was how it had always been in Botswana, where the links between people, those profound connections of blood and lineage, spread criss-cross over the human landscape, binding one to another in reliance, trust, sheer familiarity. 

Teatime for the Traditionally Built, 32


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