By Tina Jordan
Updated December 13, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

A tree grows out of a man’s head, a beautiful bird gives milk, another tree showers a poor man with food: Such is the stuff of these folktales from Zimbabwe and Botswana, most collected by Alexander McCall Smith himself during his years in Africa. Written in the same spare, almost singsong prose as his best-selling novels (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, et al.) — and boasting an introductory letter from his longtime heroine, Mma Ramotswe — many of the fables echo traditional ones told around the world. Yet each has a distinctively African twist, often featuring hyenas, lions, and elephants. The Girl Who Married a Lion is a lovely complement to Smith’s body of work.