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Introducing ancient Egypt

treasuryofegyptianmythology_How can you introduce children to history in an exciting and engaging way? As an Egyptian parent, more specifically, how do you encourage your children to celebrate their heritage if their curriculum doesn’t and the general media is unreliable?

Personally, my thirst for exploring the mysteries of my heritage was never fully quenched in my childhood. At school I learned raw facts about how the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms succeeded one another with little effort to bring the mummies to life. The way people reacted to knowing that I’m Egyptian mirrored how shallow people’s information might be about ancient Egypt (not that I’m the expert!). Their views ranged from mystic reverence for this civilization to utter reductionism of mummies and death.

When I had to create a bibliography for my children’s literature class, I didn’t hesitate to choose ancient Egypt, although I suspected it would be difficult to find engaging books that are also accurate and do not perpetuate negative stereotypes about modern or ancient Egyptians. With international and bilingual education growing steadily in Egypt, finding engaging books about ancient Egypt would be useful for teaching current Egyptian children about their ancestors.

As I looked through the books available in the US, there seemed to be two schools of thought behind writing books about ancient Egypt. The first is to portray ancient Egyptians as mystical, modern Egyptians as tomb raiders, and Egypt itself as a place artifacts wait to be rescued by anyone who is not Egyptian. The second category offers a more balanced perspective with no intention of vilifying anyone. Rather, it focuses on the subject itself. Of course, I chose books that fall within the second category. This bibliography was created as part of my coursework for a Master of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Who should use this list?
This list is intended to help teachers in Egypt or in English-speaking countries who are interested in teaching about Ancient Egypt. Egyptian parents and parents within the Egyptian diaspora will also find this list useful.

How did I compile this list?
I looked at around thirty-five books with Horn Book Guide ratings of ratings 3 and above and chose what I think are the most informative and highest quality books for children up to middle school (Preparatory stage or E’dady in Egypt). I chose my books carefully to engage and widen the children’s horizons and uncover archaeology as a universal field not restricted to “foreign experts” but also including Egyptian archaeologists. More specifically, I wanted my books to meet three criteria: interesting, reliable, and written with a balanced and inclusive perspective free from condescending overtones. Also, I wanted to find books that ensure a balance between different age groups and genre. I utilized the Horn Book Guide Online, frequented the Cambridge (MA) Main Library and consulted an online list of books about ancient Egypt.


 

Ancient Egyptian Stories

These are stories either inspired by papyri or myths from Ancient Egypt or fictional stories inspired by the historical context of Ancient Egypt

castingthegodsadrift_x300Casting the Gods Adrift: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Patricia D. Ludlow
Akhenaten was the first Pharaoh to unite the multiple Egyptian deities into one god. Excited to be the king’s apprentice, Tutmose’s happiness is overshadowed by his father’s anger at the new religion. This fictional story is complemented by artwork reflecting the warmth and adventure in the story while highlighting the centrality of religion in Ancient Egypt and how Tutmose navigates a belief that differs from his father’s.

How the Amazon Queen Fought the Prince of Egypt by Tamara Bower
Based on the papyrus scroll of “Egyptians and Amazons,” the story is set in ancient times with modern ideas of a female-led society ruled by Queen Serpot. The story positions women as wise and powerful leaders and sheds the light on the relationship between Egypt and the Amazon. The illustrations have an ancient Egyptian flavor to them as they resemble paintings in ancient Egyptian temples.

thestarbearer_The Star-Bearer: A Creation Myth from Ancient Egypt by Dianne Hofmeyer, illustrated by Jude Daly
The illustrations softly portray the Heliopolis creation myth that helped ancient Egyptians explain the different forces they encountered in their everyday life. The colors reflect the gentle and smooth evolution of forces as suggested by the myth and the lack of sharp lines reflect the abstract nature of the myth. The book also helps children identify the basic forces ancient Egyptians believed in: earth, wind, water, and sky and introduces them to basics of geology.

Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters, and Mortals by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit
Stories of ancient Egyptian myths about creation are retold with a poetic and artistic perspective while presenting information in an engaging narrative. While the artwork does not resemble ancient Egyptian style of drawings, its colorfulness and lines reflect the fantasy of ancient Egyptian mythology. Influenced by her early life in the Middle East, the illustrator presents these stories in a well-balanced mix between ancient Egypt and her distinct artistic style.

Also recommended:
The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller
The Mummy Makers of Egypt by Tamara Bower
The Shipwrecked Sailor by Tamara Bower


Young Archaeologists

Books that can be used to encourage young students who are interested in the field of archaeology.

ancientegypt_crosherAncient Egypt by Judith Crosher
Through a unique lens, the book introduces readers to daily cultural life in ancient Egypt covering topics like school, culture, customs, women’s role, medicine and law. The illustrations take readers beyond the rote facts about ancient Egypt to explore the customs and traditions of their society helping readers view the humane side of such historic civilization.

Ancient Egypt: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of Egypt’s Past by Janice Kamrin
This book introduces readers to the adventures of archaeologists working in Egypt offering a quick introduction to different topics related to ancient Egypt including the Rosetta Stone, Tomb of King Tut and the builders in ancient Egypt. Information is complemented with pictures of notable archaeologists, important excavations and conservation projects.

Curse of the Pharaohs: My Adventures with Mummies by Zahi Hawass
In an attempt to discuss the validity of the pharaohs’ curse, Egyptian archeologist, Zahi Hawass, recounts unfortunate accidents that co-occurred during expeditions. Through his engaging storytelling, Hawass leads the readers on an ongoing time travel between modern-day excavations that link the readers to ancient Egypt. His authentic voice as an Egyptian along with his personal anecdotes provide an easy entry point for young readers exploring ancient Egypt and archaeology.

everythingancientegyptEverything Ancient Egypt by Crispin Boyer
The scrapbook design of this book gives readers quick and reliable information about ancient Egypt in a fun and interesting way. Theme-based chapters address different topics with complementary pictures of artifacts, temples and modern Egypt. The book ends with important notes debunking popular beliefs about ancient Egyptian history and shedding the light on the future of artifacts in Egypt and the role of Egyptians in preserving their heritage.

Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman
In this beautiful retelling of the story behind the construction of Pharaoh Cheops’ boats, readers meet the builders and discoverers of the boats: Egyptian archaeologists Kamel El Mallakh and Ahmed Moustafa. The pictures take the readers on a journey linking ancient Egypt to modern Egypt highlighting the group effort in discovering Cheops’ boats.

secretsofthesphynxSecrets of the Sphinx by James Cross Giblin, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
This book uniquely focuses on the creation of the Sphinx with illustrations reflection the building and history of the Sphinx until today. It offers an informative perspective about the Sphinx and its unique position among all other symbols of ancient Egypt. The book informs readers about the harmful effects of Greater Cairo’s ever-growing urbanization on the preservation of archaeological sites. It also mentions the role of Egyptian experts in preserving these sites.

Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Boy King by Zahi Hawass
In this engaging retelling of Tutankhamun’s story, Hawass brings to life the amazing relics reflecting the king’s journey. Hawass explores the expeditions related to the king’s life from discovering his tomb to his most recent CT scan. Pictures of artifacts reflect the glories of the boy king’s dynasty and the role of today’s technology in helping us understand ancient history.

Who Built the Pyramid by Meredith Hooper, Illustrated by Robin Heighway-Bury
Children are introduced to the builders of Senwosret’s pyramid, each claiming to be the sole builder of the pyramid. The characters’ monologues guide the readers on an informative journey leading up to the building of the pyramid. The book is based on published research of Dieter and Dorothea Anrold of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The story is followed with an annex detailing facts about the building of the pyramid.


Not Recommended

Books that may have received good reviews but reflect a negative cultural portrayal of modern Egypt, a stereotypical view of Ancient Egypt, or stories that lack reliability.

Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures: The Great Egyptian Grave Robbery by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
The book follows the journey of an American child who, flattened by a bulletin board, travels the world seamlessly. Traveling to Egypt via mail, he unearths treasures buried in Ancient Egyptian tombs only to discover that he is helping Egyptian tomb raiders. The focus of the book is Stanley’s adventure with brief mention of ancient Egypt and a misrepresentation of modern Egypt with Egyptian men consistently depicted with angry expressions and head turbans.

Rotten Ralph Helps Out by Jack Gantos, illustrated by Nicole Rubel
Through the colorful artwork of this book, children will be exposed to interesting information about Ancient Egypt while following Sarah’s attempt to learn about the Pharaohs to prepare a school project. However, exposing children to Ancient Egypt without complementing that with pictures of today’s Egypt might leave them with incomplete information regarding today’s Egypt. Also, the author makes claims in the book that are unsupported with references.

The Tomb of the Boy King by John Frank, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
Frank’s depiction of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is poetically narrated. The writing is engaging and the illustrations accurately reflect the appropriate dress of Egyptians and British at the time. Unfortunately, Egyptian characters are portrayed as Carter’s servants whereas other books discuss the lives of Egyptians who helped make Carter’s excavations possible. [This] possibly gives a biased depiction of Egyptians being uncaring about their own ancestry.

 

 

Joyce Rafla About Joyce Rafla

Joyce Rafla holds an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University and has worked as an education consultant and taught at the American University in Cairo. She is currently an Ed.M. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a focus on early childhood education and assessment.

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Comments

  1. Jen Mason Stott says:

    I am so grateful to you for this list. I just weeded some horrors from my Ancient Egypt section, but felt at a loss as to how to replace them. Taking this list right to the local bookstore!

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