Remember that 1980s song that taught us all to "Walk Like an Egyptian"? Well, what would happen if you really took that message to heart?
In Zilpha Keatley Snyder's classic children's novel, The Egypt Game, four children do just that. Set in a California college town and published in 1967, The Egypt Game follows the adventures of April, Melanie, Marshall, and Elizabeth—four kids who become utterly fascinated with ancient Egypt and create an imaginary world where they can live out their own rituals and dramas.
But there's something sinister going on in the backdrop of the novel—which you can see coming from a mile away, since it wouldn't be all that exciting if the entire book was about kids playing and getting along in perfect harmony. A child has been kidnapped and murdered in the neighborhood (yikes!), and no one knows who did it. But since this whole thing takes place before the term "helicopter parent" started buzzing around, the kids are still allowed to play outside and to pretend they're in Egypt as if there's not a care in the world.
And it's that freedom to roam as they please that leads them straight to danger…and to solving the mystery of the child killer.
The Egypt Game is all about the power of imagination, and at the risk of sounding like a cheesy inspirational poster, about how learning can be both fun and exciting. And it's also about how you can make your life magical and thrilling, no matter how old you are. The power is in your hands, so use it wisely. Preferably by posing those hands like an Egyptian. (At least, a hieroglyphic ancient Egyptian. Egyptians today would probably be offended if kids tried to walk like their ancestors.)
Who hasn't been totally captivated by a game of make-believe? And who hasn't been playing a game for fun, and then realized it might have much bigger consequences than at first imagined?
First things first. Throughout The Egypt Game, readers can get lost in what it's like to be a child and to use the power of imagination to create whole new worlds and games. Now, with more computers and movies and video games than you can shake a pre-digital stick at, it can be easy to forget the simple pleasures of making up a story.
But that's exactly what the kids in The Egypt Game do, and believe it or not, they look like they're having more fun that way, even without any computerized car races or cutthroat Super Mario Kart battles.
The story also reminds readers of how important learning is, and that it's not something you simply do within the confines of a classroom. Learning is a lifelong process—which is why the kids spend so much time poring over books about ancient Egypt, and why the Professor (who is an old man) is still able to learn from watching them play.
Here's a wacky idea: maybe after experiencing this book, readers will be tempted to embark on their own knowledge-seeking adventures, too. Or at least think about it in between Minecraft marathons.
On the devil's advocate, consequence-y side of things, reading the book fifty-plus years after it was written means that the words "politically correct" have been invented. (Okay, they existed in 1967, but not so much together.) So, looking at history like it's some kind of grab bag of game possibilities may be a fun way to expand the imagination, but it also means risking insulting the culture those games come from.
For example: say a group of Egyptians (ancient or current) spotted a pack of kids walking the way they thought Egyptians walk. Chances are they might be an itty-bitty bit insulted that these kids are stealing a part of their culture and maybe even making fun of it. The kids may not think of it that way, but hey—they never asked the Egyptians, right?
The moral of the story: paying attention to where things like walking like an Egyptian come from, and thinking about how real Egyptians might react if they saw how they were being imitated, can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings. That may not be something the book was trying to bring up when it was written in the 1960s, but if you're reading it now, it's an important conversation to have. Either that, or do your walking like an Egyptian behind closed doors.
Zilpha's Home (Page)
All the biography, additional books, and other tidbits you'd expect of an author's official website.
Your own copy of The Egypt Game is right on the Nile—that is, the Amazon.
In an interview, Zilpha Keatley Snyder shows off her work space and discusses her writing process, which involved creating character sketches for all the main characters in her novels.
In Her Own Words
Check out this interview with Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which took place shortly before she died. In it, she talks about her writing and The Egypt Game.
Got five hours? Listen to The Egypt Game on audio book while you're in the car, walking to school, or hanging out staring at the wall. It's sure to transport you someplace else.
The original cover of The Egypt Game looks as though it could have been carved out of stone.
Walk Like an Egyptian
The current cover for The Egypt Game is pretty slick. It's even got a sneak peek of Marshall carrying Security.
All Dressed Up
This illustration from the book shows us the first time that Melanie meets April. It really gives you an eyeful of just how dressy and ridiculous April looks in her fur and false eyelashes.
Meet the Author
In image, at least. Here's a picture of Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who brought so many imaginative books to life, including The Egypt Game.