I’ve had these books stacked up in our library book basket, just waiting to be reviewed, for so long that I’m not sure I can do them justice any longer. However, I know that history resources, particularly ancient history resources, are sometimes difficult to find for young elementary students, so I’m going to do my best to shine the light on a few books we enjoyed while we were studying Ancient Egypt (for the third or fourth time–those ancient Egyptians just kept going and going and going. . . !)
My girls and I spent quite a few days on Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht by Richard Platt. This book is a large-format picture book, but it is probably most appropriate for middle- to upper-elementary aged students. My girls were quite interested in it, but the story is very involved, so unless you’ve been studying Egypt (as we had been) or have a younger child who is unusually interested in ancient Egypt, I think this one is best saved for the 8-10 years plus age group. It is the story of a young boy, Nakht, and as the subtitle indicates, it is written in diary format, so it gives a lot of insight into daily life in ancient Egypt. Nakht is training to be a scribe, and he and his family move from a small village, Esna, to Memphis at the beginning of the story. In Memphis, Nakht and his family experience all that ancient Egyptian life has to offer. Nakht attends a school for scribes (in Esna he simply learned under his father’s tutelage); he and his new school friend have adventures at the wharf; he and his sister solve a mystery involving corrupt officials and tomb-robbers; etc. Really, the story itself is almost a little too pedantic in that it seems to cover virutally every aspect of ancient Egyptian life; however, I don’t think my girls noticed that ;-). Actually, I guess this could be a good thing if that’s what you’re after. There are some instances of violence (the boys are beaten in school if they do not perform well in their lessons), drukenness (the boys inadvertently get drunk), and lots of mention of Egyptian gods and goddesses, so if those sorts of things are of concern to you, this book might not be what you’re looking for. The illustrations, which are watercolor and ink drawings by David Parkins, are very good in that they are large and follow the story very well. Each two-page spread is at least half composed of pictures. The illustrations themselves are expressive and almost have a comic-book feel. This book contains a fair amount of supplemental material at the end: hieroglyphics, the hierarchy of Egyptian society, the gods, pyramids, etc. We actually read this one like a chapter book, and with fifty-plus large pages, it worked out well. Unless you find the aforementioned materials offensive, I think this one is a great book to use while studying ancient Egypt. (ETA: I just googled Richard Platt and found his website. It looks like he has written quite a few informational books for children, many of which are about different time periods in history.)
I Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert is one of those books that took me by surprise. Ancient Egypt is a topic that I find unusual for Eve Bunting to write about, but maybe I don’t know Eve Bunting as well as I think I know her. 😉 (I have written about her books here, here, here, here, here, and here, but that certainly makes me no expert. 😉 ) As you might guess from the title, this story is told from the perspective of a mummy. Heb-Nefert was once the wife of the pharaoh’s brother, and she recounts some small details of her life as a well-to-do Egyptian woman. Her cause of death is not identified, but she describes her burial preparations as “[she] rose above [herself] and watched.” This book is written in free verse poetry, and it is poetically and descriptively written. It’s a reminder of our mortality, I suppose, more than anything else, although it does include some interesting details about life in ancient Egypt. (For example, I didn’t know that the women wore “cones of scented fat” on their heads that would melt and give off their scent in the heat, did you?) David Christiana‘s watercolor illustrations are very fitting for the story; they have a very misty, other-worldly feel. Although this book deals with a serious subject, I think it captures the feel of ancient Egypt very well.
The Tomb of the Boy King by John Frank doesn’t actually fit the time period for ancient Egypt since it’s about the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, but I included it because my girls were really interested in the whole tomb business. This book is written entirely in verse form, and while this is sometimes distracting to me, I think it works well for this story. It just made me read it all the more carefully. The whole Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon story is really engrossing, and this picture book captures the mystery and excitement of the discovery. I really like Tom Pohrt‘s illustrations in this book, too–they are detailed and colored in such a way that captures the colors of Egypt. Again, this one works well for interested or more mature listeners.
I actually didn’t discover this last book, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee, until we had finished with the ancient Egyptians (for now) and were studying about ancient Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s gardens. However, I’m sticking it in this post since the Great Pyramid at Giza is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I really like this book, and since my own knowledge of the ancient world is lacking, I am learning right along with my children. Each one of the wonders has four pages devoted to it: two of text and two of illustrations. The last couple of pages are devoted to the ancient wonders drawn alongside some “modern marvels” (i.e. State of Liberty, U.S. Capitol) all drawn to scale so that we can understand the size of those ancient structures. Highly Recommended.
This post is a little different because I’m really not giving all of these books a wholesale recommendation for all ages. Your own personal judgments and convictions about mythology and at what age children should be introduced to those concepts should guide you. Here at the House of Hope, my girls and I have had many, many (many) conversations about false gods, etc., and so while at times I have been a little uncomfortable personally with the stories we’ve read, Steady Eddie and I agree that over all, we like this classical method and want to man the rudder, so to speak, while we navigate these waters with our children.