The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

(Suggested reading level: Grades 4-6)

Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity.  -L. Frank Baum

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. – Carl Sagan

The Egypt Game for me is all about imagination. Two sixth-grade girls, unlikely friends, come together because of their love of imaginative play. The girls, April and Melanie, along with Melanie’s little brother, Marshall, sneak into the local antique dealer’s back lot, and begin the Egypt Game. They set up altars and temples using what they can find. The read all the can about ancient Egypt in the library and base their ceremonies and activities on history and their imagination. The game becomes more and more elaborate as the kids create costumes and two sixth-grade boys join their group.

When a girl is murdered in the neighborhood, the kids have to stay away from Egypt for a while, since the parents and grandparents are afraid to have the kids roaming the neighborhood, but eventually things get back to relative normality. But you still know the murder is out there. Who is he? Will he be caught? The kids don’t seem too concerned, but that seems typical of kids. They forget about being cautious.

I read this with Amber (11), and it was a perfect book for her. Story-telling, playing games that last for months and months are right up her alley. She does it on her own, but I think part of that is we’re more careful now. The Egypt Game was first published in 1967 and it was a different time. Kids seemed to have more freedom, for better or worse. I mean breaking into a storage shed and playing with “ceremonial” fire would not be tolerated now. I need to know where she is, who she’s with, and usually it’s in our yard by herself.

I sometimes think that all the tv watching and video-game playing don’t encourage creativity and imagination. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a world of your own creation when you’re a kid. I think a lot of grown-ups have forgotten the feeling, but Snyder captures it perfectly. I like that this book encourages those things, along with the joy of learning new things through books and taking what you’ve learned to enhance your life or your fiction.

Amber loved the story. She was little leery about picking it up at first, probably because it was not a book she’d heard of before and a new author to her, but once we got into it, she kept begging to read more every night.

If you know a kid in middle-school, pick this up for them. It’s just that good.

By the way, I don’t go out of my way to read banned or challenged books, but I know some people do especially during Banned Books Week in the fall. This one has been challenged a couple of times because “it shows children in dangerous situations, condones trespassing and lying to parents, and teaches children about the occult,” and “the book includes scenes depicting Egyptian worship rituals.” While I agree that it shows kids in dangerous situations, trespassing and lying, I wouldn’t say it condones them. It’s just shown as part of the kids’ lives, and is a realistic portrayal of how children that age think and feel. As for showing occult rituals, that’s ridiculous. The children were pretending, knew that it wasn’t real, and isn’t learning about other (ancient) cultures something to encourage?

Just one more comment: Amber hated the illustrations. There are just a few though, and they didn’t detract from the book overall.

Purchase at Amazon, an Indie bookstore, or The Book Depository.

240 pages
First published in 1967
Newberry Honor 1968

5 out of 5 stars

Amber’s copy was given to her as a gift and the above is my honest opinion.