Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Two things ran through my head as I read this book 1). I had read this book as a kid and 2). this book was on the 2009-2010 banned books list for occult themes. I didn't exactly remember the book but there were little passages that caught at my memory. The biggest thing was I had read the book during the same time "Walk Like an Egyptian" was popular - which also caused that song to pop into my head at random times as I re-read the book.
As for the banned booked issue - I found that really sad because this is a really good book. It doesn't encourage children to suddenly worship the devil (or Egyptian Gods), it encourages imagination, play and learning but I'll get more into that in a moment.
The book I have in my hand says the copyright date is 1976 but has a note about being a 1968 Newberry Honor. I don't know when it was first written/published and the only importance about that is that some of the language is a little odd, especially since one of the main characters is a Negro girl. Negro is just not a word you hear all that often in modern literature. Aside from a little language "barrier" you would not guess that this book wasn't a modern book. The kids don't own cell phones or play on the computer but then so many fun tales omit this part of our culture anyway (Harry Potter wasn't looking up spells on Google).
The story follows twelve year old April as she is forced to live with her Grandmother in an apartment in some place that is not exactly disclosed but doesn't seem to have snow. April's mother is a starlet in the making and has sent April off so she can make her career. April has an amazing imagination and makes fast friends with Melanie, a girl in her apartment building.
In exploring her new neighborhood, April (and Melanie) discover a magic land (okay it's the yard behind an antique store). This yard is only accessible through a broken part of the fence. In the yard, the find a bust of Nefertiti which sends the girls on an adventure starting at the local library. They learn everything they can about Egypt and play act it out in the yard with Melanie's 4 year old brother Marshall.
I can see where some people might think that pretending to be ancient Egyptians is occult like but the truth is everything they play is rooted in fact. They pretend to be Priestesses and even include a few other kids from the neighborhood. They don't believe it's real. Every story must have a climax and this one begins when a child in the neighborhood is murdered and everyone believes it's the old man at the antique store. The kids are stuck between trying to be safe and continuing a game that makes these children feel at home.
It's a really good story and I am so glad that Ms Snyder wrote a sequel which I will be picking up next. I was a really imaginative child and having people who understood that imagination would have been the best treat I could ever have had - not all of us are so lucky to have friends who would recreate a world with you. For those who might be concerned - at no time do the children believe it's real, however when they add in the Oracle, they begin to wonder if they have gone too far.

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