Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Egypt (Meet the Ancient World 5)

Ah, Ancient Egypt ... what a delight! Pyramids, mummies, stunning art and captivating mythology: The material is so rich that you may want to linger on this unit for a good long time -- and return to the topic often.

There are also tons and tons of great resources for introducing Ancient Egypt to young kids. I've only listed our favorites.


Both Story of the World and the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia (discussed in previous units) contain useful introductions to this topic. You could fill whole shelves with children's books about Ancient Egypt -- just find the appropriate section at your local library and you're sure to turn up something good. This short list highlights those that worked best for us.

Henry Barker, Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
This early reader provides a clear, well-illustrated introduction to Ancient Egyptian mythology, with a lovely account of the soul's journey to the afterlife. It was a huge hit with my kids, who must have acted out the Weighing of the Heart a dozen times. Highly recommended.

Twelve Egyptian dieties are introduced in this volume, which is sadly out of print but not super difficult to find. The bright, bold illustrations are eye-catching and appealing.

Jacqueline Morley, Egyptian Myths
Wonderful compilation of Egyptian myths, also out of print, alas. The haunting, ancient tales of Osiris, Isis, Set, Horus, and more are presented through compelling text. Some of these stories are violent and may disturb particularly sensitive children, but the stories are so marvelous and make such a wonderful introduction to ancient mythology that I strongly recommend tracking it down.

Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller, The Egyptian Cinderella
This picture book retells the original Cinderella tale, first written down in first century B.C. Greece by the historian Strabo. In it, a young Greek girl named Rhodopis is kidnapped and made a slave in Egypt; because of her talent as a dancer, her master gives her a beautiful pair of dainty slippers, and the story proceeds from there.

Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, Ms. Frizzle's Adventures: Ancient Egypt
Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame joins a tour group on a trip to modern-day Egypt, and with the help of her magic time machine, leads the group back to ancient times. The goofy premise and cartoon-style illustrations have great kid appeal.

Miles Harvey, Look What Came from Egypt
Colorful guide for children to the many inventions and innovations of the ancient Egyptians.


Ancient Civilizations for Children: Ancient Egypt
Another video from the Schlessinger ancient history for kids series I discussed in the Mesopotamia unit, featuring faux-archeologist Arizona Smith. The film is short and the VHS format antiquated, but this series works well for young kids, so it's worth trying inter-library loan if you can't find it locally.

Reading Rainbow: Mummies Made in Egypt
Sorry -- it's another tricky-to-track-down VHS, this time from the beloved 1980s/1990s kids' TV series Reading Rainbow.

National Geographic's Mysteries of Egypt
Yep -- yet another one on VHS. But it's Omar Sharif! Sitting at the base of a pyramid and opining majestically about Ancient Egypt to an ersatz granddaughter! The camp value for grown-ups is reason enough to seek this one out; the story-told-to-a-sweet-moppet framing appeals to young kids. (Please, dear readers, if you know of good films for kids about Ancient Egypt that are actually available on DVD, post a comment below.)


As with any of these ancient history studies, you can encourage Egypt-themed play at little or no cost. We mummified a little man cut from a potato, wrapped the kids' baby dolls in toilet paper, built a pyramid from a cardboard box, and made a scale of justice using a coat hanger and two small plastic cups. (Yes, that's Desmond as the goddess Maat, holding the Feather of Truth.) There are a couple of different books of Egypt activities for kids that can give you more ideas and detailed instructions.

But if you're going to make one purchase for this unit, I strongly encourage you to get a set of little Egyptian play figures. The easiest-to-find is the Ancient Egypt Toob from Safari, which includes Anubis, Thoth, Isis, and a Bastet cat -- many toy stores carry it.

If your budget allows, there are all sorts of other wonderful Egypt-themed playthings, including a wide array of excavation kits and a full line of fabulous toys from Playmobil, like the really cool pharaoh's temple my sister gave the kids last Christmas. There are card games and flash cards and puzzles and even a modern-day version of the ancient game of Senet that's easy enough for five-year-olds to play. Our oh-so-worth-it splurge was the awesome wooden pyramid-building set from Haba, which functions both as a construction puzzle and as a backdrop for play.

With all the great Egypt material available, I'm sure I've missed something I shouldn't have. Please share your favorite resources and activities in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the Dollar Tree or Everything's A Dollar stores. You can pick up packs of figurines for $1. I've seen emerging Eyptian items in our local Dollar Tree stores as well as things like pirate stuff. There is usually a fairly decent selection of toys in their aisles. When you do pirate day or whatever in the fall, they have all kinds of party stuff and coins and just about anything you can think of for pirate play. They have other themes as well. Check them out and see what you can find. - E :)

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series
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