Roman’s (Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?, 2016, etc.) series of cross-cultural children’s books continues in this basic introduction to ancient and modern Egypt, with helpful illustrations by Wierenga (If You Were Me and Lived In…Italy, 2015, etc.).
A pair of Egyptian siblings lead readers through their country, starting with its location on the globe and the names of its capital city and its regions. Roman helpfully sprinkles plenty of Egyptian vocabulary into the text right away, including “Masr” for “homeland” and “Umm-al-Dunya,” the title of Cairo, which means “mother of the world.” Wierenga uses a combination of illustrations and modified photos to aid in giving an impression of that city, putting an image of its famous Al-Azhar Mosque front and center. Roman gives examples of common Egyptian names for boys and girls before introducing some family terms and favorite sweet treats that the local children might have with their grandparents. The narrators take readers, as if they were visitors, to the Pyramids of Giza, providing a quick glimpse into the world of the pharaohs who built them. It’s nice that the book visits the ancient Egyptian sites in the context of taking tourists to see them rather than as everyday places that Egyptian kids go. However, it devotes several pages to these ancient areas (including a boat ride down the Nile) rather than exploring the modern lives of the children. Roman does return to present-day foods, though, such as “kofta” (skewered spicy meatballs) and “kushari,” (vegetarian stew) which may be unfamiliar to American readers; it also shows dishes, such as baba ghanoush, that Americans may find in their own hometowns. The narrators also show how they enjoy watching soccer on television and playing other sports, celebrating Sham-al-Nessim (the beginning of spring), and going to el madrasa (school). It’s surprising, however, that there’s no description of the types of clothing that the children wear, particularly as the girls are all dressed in hijabs throughout. There’s also no mention of Islam despite the presence of the mosque in the early illustration. These seem like important details to leave out of a book on Egyptian children’s daily lives in Egypt. However, it does feature occasional direct questions to readers to keep them engaged and plenty of new vocabulary, which will certainly make it worth having in the classroom.
A kids’ book that, despite some omissions, should spark young readers’ interest in modern Egypt.