Both Kelly and I are library lovers. Seriously, if we bought every book we read (and our children read), we’d probably be broke. I love the library for a variety of reasons, though almost unlimited access to free books/movies/cds is at the top of the list! Another reason is their ongoing efforts to promote literacy to all age groups. We are both readers, writers, mothers, and teachers! On a recent trip to the library a display promoting the Reading Lair (intended for grades 4-6) caught my eye. The group had been challenged with reading The Egypt Game.
This seemed to fit well into the young adult/fantasy genre that’s been really popular for the past couple of years. After picking the book up, I realized this was not a new book at all. Written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, this book was first published in 1967. In this year she also won the Newbury Award. This book has long been a must-have for teachers,parents, and school libraries. There seems to have been renewed interest as this genre has become so popular, it’s amazing that this book is still popular over forty years after it was originally published!
The story focuses on two young girls who first meet during the summer, when April has come to visit her grandmother. Melanie, whose family lives in the same apartment building as April’s grandmother, is thrilled to have someone her own age around. April isn’t exactly happy to be there; her mother is an actress who seems always too busy to be a part of her life. What April doesn’t know in the beginning of the book is that she going to spend a lot more time at her grandmother’s house than she expected. These two girls, along with Melanie’s 4 year old brother, begin spending time behind a store that’s just around the corner from their apartment building. The store is owned by an aspiring archaeologist/historian who has many of his collected artifacts on display. Behind the store is some of the bigger items that are too big for display in the store. This is where the Egypt game begins.
As the game grows, more people join, and it becomes more elaborate, including costumes, role-playing, an oracle, and even at one point they experiment with mummification. One of the young girls who get involved with the game, Elizabeth, offers up her pet parakeet for the experiment.
“The appearance of the mummy-to-be when he was removed from his brine bath, on the following afternoon, was something of a shock to everybody. His wet feathers stuck to his tiny body and he was covered with a thick white salty scum. When Toby lifted him gingerly out of the brine by one claw, everybody felt a little queasy, and Elizabeth’s eyes became suspiciously liquid.”
During the summer when the game first begins there was a child murdered in the neighborhood, which forces the children inside, and away from Egypt. The owner of the store, whom they call “The Professor” is a potential suspect. Of course the fear is felt by the parents, and the murder investigation just adds a level of ingrigue and interest for the children. As the game becomes more elaborate, especially through the communication with the oracle, things start to get a bit strange. It’s an important lesson for these children (and hopefully for those children who read the book) to set limits, and avoid getting involved in risky behavior, even when their friends are doing something they shouldn’t.
Egypt Game is incredibly imaginitive, and incredible in that it has the ability to draw in young readers even all these years later. Would something like this happen today? Can children unplug, get outside, and use their imaginations? I believe they still can, and this book can serve as an inspiration!