The Books
The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case
Format: Trade Paperback , 96 pages
Category: Juvenile Fiction - Mysteries & Detective Stories; Juvenile Fiction - People & Places - Africa; Juvenile Fiction - Girls & Women
Publisher: Anchor
On Sale: April 3, 2012
Price: $6.99
ISBN: 978-0-307-74389-3 (0-307-74389-6)
Also available as an unabridged audiobook download and an eBook.

An Author Note, Character Guide, and Index to the Geography and People of Botswana


Dear Reader,

There are some stories that an author feels he or she just has to write, and for me this story of the early life of my Botswana heroine, Precious Ramotswe, is one.

Over the decade or so since the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books have been widely available, I have been struck by the number of young people who have engaged with the story of this rather amiable African woman who starts a tiny detective agency and who devotes herself to helping people with their personal problems. I have also been struck by the extent to which the books were shared within families; it not being uncommon for grandparents, parents, and children all to take turns in reading the latest installment of Mma Ramotswe’s story. This pleased me greatly, as reading the same book is a good way of binding generations together. At the same time, even if a young child is a strong reader, these books could pose a bit of a challenge—hence the idea of writing something that could be appreciated by readers under ten, while at the same time being, I hope, an entertaining read for all ages. I know I have a lot of fans who are teachers and librarians and hope that the book will also appeal to them as one they can share and use with younger readers.

It also seemed to me that it would be an intriguing and enjoyable thing to imagine the life of Precious when she was a young girl. If it is true that we often manifest at a very early age those qualities and interests that will determine what we do in later life, then it is reasonable to think that the young Precious Ramotswe was a bit of a detective all along. So the story emerged of Precious dealing with a mystery that arises in her class at school. And of course the issues that arise in that context are the same as those that arise in an adult mystery: honesty and dishonesty, friendship, suspicion, and so on. But, I hope that this book is able to do a little bit more. I hope that it gives the young reader something of the flavor of Africa and will inspire them to read more about that wonderful continent and its remarkable people.

—Alexander McCall Smith


Precious Ramotswe (RAM-OTS-WE)
She smiles a lot and is one of the nicest girls in Botswana. Precious asks a lot of questions and can always tell when people are making things up.

Obed Ramotswe
Precious’s father, he is a kind man who tells great stories. Obed was almost eaten by a lion when he was young.

Tapiwa (TAP-EE-WAH)
A girl who is Precious’s classmate. She is the first to realize that there is a thief at their school.

One of Precious’s classmates whom everyone likes and has a habit of saying funny things.

Big Mrs. Molipi (MO-LEE-PEE)
The school cook, a very large lady who seems to only know one recipe.

Not-so-Big Mrs. Molipi

Big Mrs. Molipi’s assistant and cousin. She is much smaller than her cousin.

Poloko (PO-LOW-KO)
A rather round boy who is Precious’s classmate. He walks around with sweets in his pockets and everyone thinks he is the cake thief.


is located towards the bottom of Africa and is roughly the size of Texas. It is a wide dry land with lots of amazing things to see. The capital is Gaborone. Pronounced Ha-bo-ro-nee.

The Bush is the rural, undeveloped land of Botswana, which is far from civilization.

The Kalahari
is a semi-desert, which occupies the central and western parts of Botswana. It is a great stretch of dry grass and thorn trees where very few people live.

Mma is the term used to address a woman, and may be placed before her name. It is pronounced “ma” (with a long a). This is what Precious and her classmates call their teacher.

Okavango is the great river in the north that flows the wrong way—instead of flowing from land to sea, the water goes from the ocean to the heart of Africa where it is absorbed into the sands of the Kalahari.

Setswana is the language spoken in most of Botswana. Most people also speak English and newspapers, for example, will be in both languages.

Wildlife Botswana has a wide variety of wild animals, including lions, elephants, zebras, buffalo, leopards, hippos, hyenas, baboons, snakes, monkeys, and many more.

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