I love David Macaulay’s book about how the pyramids were built. The illustrations are wonderful, and it makes plain what a massive (and massively useless) undertaking it was to build the damn things. However, I should mention that it has not sustained my (six-year-old) daughter’s interest long enough for me to read the whole thing to her.
Similarly, I love David Weitzman’s The Pharaoh’s Boat which, like Macaulay’s book, has beautiful illustrations and shows how clever the ancient Egyptians were. And, like Macaulay’s book, I like it much more than my daughter does.
We both like The Star-Bearer, which is a picture book (with very pretty pictures) retelling an ancient Egyptian creation myth. We also like Gerald McDermott’s Voyage of Osiris, which retells a myth of Osiris: how he was imprisoned and then murdered by Set, how he was reassembled, and how he became the ruler of the Underworld. I’ve left out a link because it appears to be out of print, and there’s not much on it online.
My daughter loves You Wouldn’t Want to Be Cleopatra! much more than I do–she asked me to read it to her five days in a row, to my sorrow. It certainly holds a child’s attention: there’s strangling, seasickness, beheading, poisoning, stabbing, and sibling rivalry (including an illustration showing Cleopatra’s brother taunting her with, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, I’m Pharaoh”). If you’ve ever been to one of the Grossology exhibits at your local science center, you’ve got an idea of the kind of book this is.
I can tell you which books my daughter enjoyed, but someone else will have to tell you how true to the facts or the source material they are, because I have no idea.
Update: I completely forgot The Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, which has a long section on ancient Egypt, and which both my daughter and I love.
It makes me so happy I could cry. While my six-year-old daughter was watching the video embedded below over and over again the other day, I actually did get a little something-in-my-eyes about it: the music is wonderful, the message is wonderful, and my daughter loves it. There are many more; follow the trail of related videos on YouTube.
Because mine grows, grows, and grows.
As it turns out, it’s less unpleasant than you might think. The application I’m using to read it, Eucalyptus, has reasonably good typography, and does a number of things to fake reading an actual book–including a mesmerizing page-turning animation which, after using it for months, I can’t stop playing with. It doesn’t do a number of things it should do, like providing a mechanism for searching in the book you’re reading, or allowing you to add your own bookmarks. It costs about ten dollars, which seems like a lot until you use Stanza or the iPhone Kindle reader.
The typography isn’t perfect, but it’s miles ahead of what you get with the other readers. Unlike the other readers I mentioned (and unlike the web browser you’re using to read this with), Eucalyptus hyphenates, which, sadly, is something of a rarity with digital text. Any typesetting system for print which did not hyphenate would be considered a toy, but, for some reason, if the text is displayed onscreen it’s considered perfectly excusable to leave that out. Even twenty years later.
The iPod Touch has a reasonably high-resolution screen, it fits in my pocket, and, because I already owned it, the only cost was the ten dollars for the reader software–which, as it turns out, is cheaper than buying Gibbon in hardcover.
Starts off with a bang:
Achilles’ banefull wrath resound, O Goddesse, that imposed
Infinite sorrowes on the Greekes, and many brave soules losd
From breasts Heroique–sent them farre, to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their lims to dogs and vultures gave.
To all which Jove’s will gave effect; from whom first strife begunne
Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis’ godlike Sonne.
I found a used copy for four dollars. I guess I can thank most of you for not reading poetry: if you did, it probably would have cost me more.
Update Jan. 4th, 2010: It is not available on Gutenberg, but there is a somewhat lame Google Books version online.