The Meerkat Wars – H.S. Toshack (2012, PakaMdogo Press, First North American printing)
I’ve always had a soft spot for books that involved groups of animals undertaking some adventure, or caught up in some conflict: Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web, Tailchaser’s Song, The Incredible Journey, the Redwall series…so I was very excited to read H.S. Toshack’s The Meerkat Wars, a story of two tribes of meerkats and a very clever, very thoughtful little house cat.
Sheena is the small black and white pet cat of the Allen family, who live in Africa. She creeps into the back of the Allen’s Land Rover as they embark on a camping trip to Baragandiri National Park, and she is inadvertently left behind in the hot desert sand after a pit stop. An encounter with a nasty scorpion leads Sheena to her first meeting with the Duwara tribe of meerkats, and as she spends more time with her new companions, Sheena becomes deeply involved in their struggle with a neighbouring tribe, the Utongo. It seems the two tribes, which live on either side of a deep, dark gorge, have long been at odds over the idea that each tribe has their own sun. As the sun is a renewing, life-giving force central to their lives (almost a deity, although this is never stated), this two-sun idea is worth so much to the Utongo and the Duwara that tribe members risk – and sacrifice – their lives to uphold their beliefs.
Sheena, a smart, creative, and empathetic cat, is determined to use all of the resources available to her to stop the meerkats from destroying each other. As she sets her plans in motion, she encounters much adversity, including acid-spewing ants, a hungry monitor lizard, a family of prickly porcupines, and a herd of den-destroying buffalo. The hardest part of all, though, is convincing the meerkats to co-operate and save themselves.
Undoubtedly, part of the charm of this book is the way Sheena’s character is drawn – you can’t help but admire her tenacity and resourcefulness, the way she thinks on her feet, and her countless selfless and kind deeds. And, as Sheena learns about her new meerkat friends, the reader learns about them as well – how they sleep, how they raise their young, how they eat, how they survive in the stifling African heat. (I certainly know more about meerkats now than I ever did before!).
Above all, I loved Toshack’s writing style – there are a ton of word-plays going on in this book, really fun stuff that would appeal to both children and adults. Humour, combined with a massive attention to detail, make this book an absolute delight to read. I think it would be a perfect selection to read aloud.
Now, I simply MUST go back and read the first two books in the series!
Much thanks to Paka Mdogo Press for the review copy, by way of Library Thing!