Sadly, a couple of days ago, Zilpha Keatley Snyder died at the age of 87. (Publishers’ Weekly obituary) I have to admit that it has made me change my post slightly, to be a bit more thoughtful and positive about the book and about what she was trying to accomplish. I had never heard of Snyder or The Egypt Game (1967) before I saw it on the Top 100 Chapter Books but I do plan on seeking out more of her books now, especially since a few of them have been recently reissued.
What it’s about: After her actress mother gets flaky, April moves from Hollywood to Berkeley, CA to live with her paternal grandmother. She’s sometimes a brat about it, treating her grandmother badly as she somewhat impatiently waits for her mother to summon her back home. She wears a hairstyle that’s far too old for her, massive fake eyelashes, and a fur stole and then wonders why she has trouble fitting in with the easy-going Berkeley kids. But Melanie, a girl from her apartment building, is a good kid and she connects with April over a newly-born interest in Egypt and they start playing a pretend game about being Egyptians. A new girl in their building joins them in the game and everything is going well until a child in the neighborhood is abducted and murdered and all of the parents make their kids stay indoors. But they (and the boys who eventually join their game) sneak around anyway and eventually one of them ends up in true peril.
Age level: Grade 4-6
Best part: I really liked the way April and Melanie treated Marshall, Melanie’s four-year-old brother. He was a quirky little guy and they always stood up for him and treated him well.
Worst part: Though I’m sure Snyder meant well in 1967, crafting a novel that celebrated the diversity of families that lived in this college community, she goes a bit overboard in her praise for the racial characteristics of each character. For example, though she barely mentions anything about April’s face except for her bad hairstyle and fake lashes, she gushes about Elizabeth’s Asian eyes three or four times. Again, I’m sure she meant well but it comes across as a tad awkward in our semi-post-racial society.
If I had read this book in the early 80s when I was a kid, I probably would have loved it. It was a bit mysterious, had things in it that would have still seemed topical and probable in the mid 80s, and would have gotten me interested in ancient Egypt earlier than I eventually was. But, reading this now, I found the child abductor scenario to be very dated. However, this was mostly a book about diverse friendships, making history come alive and choosing to live with the circumstances that life gives you. While this book wasn’t perfect, I still thought it was very good and I think that there is probably still an audience out there for it today.
Next up is a reread for me of the first of the Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning. To be honest, I liked it but didn’t love it so I wonder how I’ll feel about it this time through. I also might read one or two of the following books as well.
Schedule – October through January
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
October 31 – #48 The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (1999)
November 15 – #21 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
November 30 – #62 Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (2006)
December 15 – #47 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
December 30 – Winter Break
January 15 – #28 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)