Monday, September 5, 2011
Book Review: Lights on the Nile, by Donna Jo Napoli (Harper Collins, 2011)
Release date: September 20, 2011
Ancient Egypt continues to hold great appeal for young and old, and even makes the best-seller lists (see Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, for example). Award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli's newest book, suitable for elementary school readers, is set during that fascinating period, and tells the story of Kepi, a young girl living around 2530 BCE. Kepi's father, a laborer, has been wounded during the construction of a pyramid for Pharaoh Khufu. Kepi's life changes dramatically when she, along with her pet baby baboon, Babu, is kidnapped and hidden in a large basket on a boat. Where is she being taken and what will become of them? Babu, we soon discover, is destined to be sold to priests at one of the great city temples. When she is separated from her beloved pet, Kepi decides she must go see the powerful Pharaoh to tell him about men who are getting injured building his pyramid. Surely he will help these men and their families! Kepi will need to draw on all her courage to try to reach the all-powerful Pharaoh.
Napoli makes the reader feel that she, too, is travelling down the Nile, with her vivid descriptions of the wildlife--oryx, pelicans, and the dangerous hippos, crocodiles, and other animals--temples, gods, and people of the region. This is a quick-moving adventure story well-suited for middle-grade readers. Here in California, ancient Egypt part of the sixth grade curriculum, and this would be an excellent book to recommend for children developing an interest in that period. Many of the novels about this period for young people seem to involve Cleopatra; this new book makes a welcome addition to novels about the period, offering a story about an ordinary girl who takes an extraordinary journey.
One note: the publisher's copy for this novel indicates that the story "revisits the fabled origin of fairies." The end of the book does contain a fairy element (I won't go into the details here) but I would say that the fairy story is secondary in this novel to the historical fiction side. I would not want to pitch this to children as a story about fairies, since fairies do not even come into the narrative into the very end. A child expecting "Disney Fairies goes to ancient Egypt" will be very disappointed!
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.