Book Flight: Ancient Egypt

Pyramids, mummies, Gods, myth, legend, history, intrigue… ancient Egypt- in fact and in fiction- has it all.  Get the whole family reading about this fascinating subject with a book that will appeal to each person, and compare notes and share stories over dinner, at bedtime, whenever you find the chance!

And if this just whets your appetite, we have some recommendations for further learning with non-fiction books, websites and even hieroglyphic blocks.

A read-aloud for the whole family:

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Hot off the presses, this new book sparked our interest in learning more about the ancient Egyptian world.  If you loved Percy Jackson, all you need to know is that this is the new series by the same author.  Instead of the unsuspecting teenage descendants of Greek Gods needing to save the world, this time it’s the unsuspecting teenage sibling descendants of Egyptian Gods that have to save the world.  But it’s not simply the next verse, same as the first.  These characters are well drawn and very realistic- mixing sibling rivalry and first crushes nicely with saving the world and wielding newfound superpowers. The universe of Egyptian Gods is less well known than their Greek counterparts, and Riordan explains it succinctly, entertaining while informing.   It made us  want to read up a bit on Egyptian history and mythology while waiting for the next installment in the Kane Family Series, and sparked a spree of reading that led to the rest of our recommendations…

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For toddlers and early readers:

The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo

Your toddlers and early readers won’t be the only ones who are fascinated by this picture book.  This tale of Rhodopis (ra-doh-pes) and her rose-red slippers is one of the world’s oldest Cinderella stories, recorded first by the Roman historian Strabo in the first century B.C. In this version, “Cinderella” is a Greek slave girl, whose kind master rewards her with beautiful rose-red slippers.  When a falcon steals one and delivers it to the lap of the great Pharoah, he declares he will find the owner of the slipper and make her Queen of all Egypt.  Sounds familiar?  There are enough plot similarities to delight readers familiar with Cinderella–and enough intriguingly different details in the Ancient Egyptian setting to make it a compelling read.  Best of all, the story is told using rich lyrical language and stunning illustrations.

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For toddlers and early readers:

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola hits just the right note with this humorous adventure story for the younger readers, with its Egyptian setting.  Adventure and mystery await Bill the crocodile and his friend, Pete, a crocodile bird (and Bill’s official toothbrush)  as they travel down the Nile, learn about ancient Egypt,  and save the famous Isis jewel, The Sacred Eye of Ibis.   Of course, the illustrations are a treat and the shades of gold and blue enhance the Egyptian feel.  Kids enjoy the playful language “mix-ups” and may want to read the other Bill and Pete adventures.

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For toddlers and early readers:

Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble! by Judy Schachner

Skippyjon Jones, the intrepid Siamese kitten who thinks he is a chihuahua, dons his cape and mask once again to become El Skippito.  This time, after daydreaming about ancient Egypt, his imaginary adventure with his chihuahua amigos  take him along the banks of the Nile, and into new and humorous adventures there.  For example, he visits the Under Mundo, where mummitos “rest in peas.”   The songs and rhymes are a delight–and kids we know love to song along and “clap-clap” at the appropriate places.  A perfect addition for your Egyptian adventure with younger readers.  And if this is their first Skippyjon Jones, they are in for a treat; there are nine other Skippyjon Jones adventure, and most come with an accompanying CD read by the author.

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For tweens and early adolescents:

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Six children from different cultures and backgrounds come together to form “The Egypt Group” and create their own elaborate fantasy game that gives the book its title. They have a secret meeting place with their own rules and rituals–even their own writing system of hieroglyphics. Danger and mystery combine in this highly suspenseful and just plain enjoyable story. It makes readers want to have the fun of creating an imaginary world, whether it’s in Ancient Egypt or another time or place in history. Organized around episodes, it’s a perfect upper elementary/ middle school  classroom or family book to read aloud and has good stopping places, ready for the next adventure to start.

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For tweens through young adults:

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Garvis McGraw

The tale of Renofer, an early Egyptian boy, is another great readaloud for the family, as well as a gripping book for middle schoolers on their own.  This adventure story is well-written ( winner of a Newbury Honor Book award), fast-paced, and filled with the details of living in the distant past in an Egyptian city.  Renofer, newly orphaned, lives with his step-brother Gebu.  His plans to become a goldmith are shattered by his brother, who involves him in a plot to steal gold from the local artist where he acts as a servant.  There are many plot twists as the reader is drawn into a realistic ancient world.  Historical novels like this show the ways that the belief systems, rites, and rituals were woven into the everyday lives of the people.

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For early adolescents and young adults:

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Young adults can enjoy a historical fiction novel with a similar setting, but centered around an older protagonist:  in this case, Mara, a strong and spunky teen-aged slave girl who becomes a kind of “double agent” both for the loyal followers of the Pharoah Hatshepsut, and those who wish replace her with her younger half-brother Thutmose.  Another book that shares rich detailed information about the culture of Ancient Egypt, in the midst of a fast-paced, adventure–love interest included.  It’s probably important to share with readers that while the details of everyday life are valid, most of the information about Hatshepsut is incorrect.  Thutmose was her step-son, not half-brother, and he never did overthrow her. And while Hatshepsut is portrayed as an arch villain in the novel, she actually ruled Egypt through a time of peace and prosperity.  These are minor quibbles, though, in terms of the power of the novel to bring alive another world through the eyes of a realistic and feisty young woman.

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For adults, young, middling, and old:

Amelia Peabody Mystery Series by Elizabeth Peters

Here’s a series that can capture the the interest of the adults in the family–especially those who love a good mystery novel.  Immerse yourself in the early 20th century world of Amelia Peabody–British archeologist, adventurer, and mystery-solver. You may want to start with Amelia’s first adventure,  Crocodile on the Sandbank, where Amelia decided to use her substantial inheritance for travel, and becomes embroiled in a mystery that shows her skills for sleuthing–and kindles her passion for Egyptology.   Over the course of the 19 Amelia Peabody mysteries, she meets the love of her life, marries, has a son (who of course becomes as dedicated to archeology as his parents are) and continues to have adventures and solve mysteries.  The most recent in the series, A River in the Sky, was published in April 2010 and continues the saga, with more dead bodies, ruined shirts, and the familiar steely, take-no-prisoners attitude.  It’s brimming with adventure, humor, and yes, interesting information about ancient Egypt.

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