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Ancient Egypt - Marcia Williams

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Paperback: 48 pages / Publisher: Candlewick Press / Reprint: 26 Feb 2013

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      17.03.2013 17:00
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      4 stars for educational purposes only - not the best for storytime.

      A strange sentence to read in a child's bedtime story, but when we read ancient myths, no matter how sanitised to children, we have to accept that everything is not always going to be a rosy as a Julie Donaldson story. The sentence quoted above is a very brief reference to cannibalism. There is still some debate as to whether the pre dynastic Egyptians practiced this, but most of the Isis / Osiris myths make reference to it, and that Isis taught them to grow wheat and eat grain rather than other humans. Additionally, at least one poem from this period survives, making reference to cannibalism. Thankfully the book does not go into great detail, but it was of course enough to have my children asking questions.

      In addition to this, these stories are all very violent. There is death, mutilation of corpses, incest, infanticide and suicide. Whenever I hear people protesting about the violence in comic books being unsuitable for children - I wonder how much of the classics they have read. Mythology, fairy tales and folklore have always been rife with violence. The violence in these stories is limited. The author does not go into great detail and the illustrations do not show a great deal, but I would suggest parents of very young children read this book themselves before settling down to read this at bedtime.

      I bought this book to include in a unit study of Egypt, and for this purpose it is quite good. It does give children a very basic knowledge of Egyptian myths. This book includes the myths of Ra and the Creation ( note there are similarities between this and the book of Genesis), Isis and the Cobra, Seth the Evil One and the death Osiris, Horus, Pharaoh Zoser, Queen Hatshepsut, Thutmose and Cleopatra. There is also a second narrative told by the pet cat of the god Ra which briefly mentions mummification as the cat runs through it's nine lives before returning to its master - who has left the realm of mortals, taking his place in the heavens as Amen Ra.

      I had been hoping for a story with a mummy - but of course the tales of walking Mummies and mummies curses are really more of a modern western invention. Still, I had expected something about Osiris being the first mummy and this was not included. I was also hoping for a story of the scarab as I know there is an ancient myth about this, and my sons are very interested in these little insects, but this was not included.

      The illustrations are very much comic book style, with the people being fairly crude. Still there are some truly beautiful illustrations of Ra and Toth as well as some Egyptian symbols and designs. The illustrations of the pyramids in white, as they would have originally been before the limestone wore away are nice as well, but perhaps the best picture is of the young god Horus battling Seth in the from of a hippo.

      This book served its purpose as part of our studies on Egypt, and the children did show some interest as it was read. They particularly wanted to know what piece of Osiris was never found as this book does not tell the reader, and managed to guess it at once as I turned slightly red. this was certainly their favourite part of the book - having a laugh at Mommy being embarrassed. But they weren't too happy with a baby being discarded to die, and my youngest felt sorry for the hippo when looking through the pictures before he realised it wasn't really a hippo but Seth in disguise. This book led to a lot of questions, many of them awkward such as "Why would he marry his sister?", "Why did they kill their father?", "Why would the Mommy leave her baby ?", "Why would some one kill themself?". I haven't rated down for this. The ancient myths, or in the case of Cleopatra, history are often brutal. But I think the darker overtones of this book really needed something to lighten them up - something like Terry Deary does with Horrible Histories, a few jokes to lighten the mood.

      This book is certainly educational - and that is it's primary purpose. Marcia Williams has taken several educational topics, like the Greek myths, the Trojan Horse, Shakespeare's plays, and the age of inventions and made them into short easy to understand comic book style stories. I honestly can not fault her on this book, but it simply is not as engaging as the Greek mythology or the Trojan Horse, which my son loved. this was read once, as part of a home study curriculum and never read again. In short, the children are not interested in it, and no matter how educational a book, I can not give 5 stars to a story book of any kind that does not really interest the children.

      Still - it is educational. I would have no problem recommending as supplemental material for a classroom study of Ancient Egypt or for a home education unit study. I would even consider buying it as interesting source material for a child writing a large report on Ancient Egypt - although if you can find in a library that would be better. I do feel that a well rounded education includes being well versed in ancient mythology, and in the folklore and history of several other cultures, and this is an easy way for children to learn a bit of Egyptian mythology. Finally, I think the artwork alone might make this worth buying for a child who enjoys drawing Egyptian style art. But I would not expect this to be read over and over, and while I will keep it - I don't really feel that it has been worth the money spent. This book sells for £4.75 new from amazon, with prices from Amazon market place being only slightly less. Used copies are considerably more expensive.

      I bought this for my oldest child, who is 8 years old. My youngest is only 4 but almost always listens in on anything read for his brothers school work. I do feel this best suits and older audience though and would recommend this for ages 7 -12.

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