The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

A recent thread on rec.arts.books covered people’s favorite children’s books. I hadn’t heard of this one, and the title intrigued me (I’m a sucker for games), so I went out hunting. April Dawn (not her real name) is the daughter of a Hollywood wannabe who comes to the small town of the story to live with her grandmother. She makes friends with the girl down the hall. Sound a little boring? Well, it’s not, because Snyder has a touch of authenticity rare in children’s books. Most of the ones that I like tend to exaggerate the adults or the children’s experiences, such as the recently read James and the Giant Peach or classics like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Snyder’s world is wonderfully real and alive. The children are sweet and cruel to each other and adults; the adults are understanding and sick. Why, there’s even a “serial” killer in this book. Frightening? Yes, but because we see this through the eyes of children, the scary aspect quickly changes to the drudgery of not being allowed as free a rein to play.

And play is what The Egypt Game is about. April and her friend Melanie are imagineers of the first stripe. Their game is drawn from their mutual fascination for things Egyptian and the convenient vacant junk lot behind the A-Z store. The game is perfectly portrayed–how children can make and follow their rules, but also how they stop in the midst of the game to redefine or add new rules as well.

I prefer children’s books with a little magic in them (or, in the case of Narnia, a lot of magic), so I was delighted to read one in which the magic was of the commonplace sort rather than otherworldly.

[Finished 11 April 1994]

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