I listened to this one on audiobook and had mixed feelings--it's beautifully written, very evocative of ancient Israel, with fascinating characters. BI listened to this one on audiobook and had mixed feelings--it's beautifully written, very evocative of ancient Israel, with fascinating characters. But it's very dark--there's not even a spot of humor anywhere, and the book is very long. Sometimes I said to myself, just get to the end already! I would recommend it to readers who loved The Red Tent and who are especially interested in ancient cultures. As a Jew it was fascinating to learn more about the Ancient Hebrews and how they lived. Of course since the story revolves around the siege of Masada you know that a sad ending is coming, and there definitely is a major build-up of tension toward the end. The ending (no spoilers) was an interesting twist. Well worth checking out if you are a historical fiction fan. ...more
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 examplAncient 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! ...more
Carolyn Meyer is one of our most prolific contemporary authors of historical fiction for young people, and has tackled novelizations of the lives of mCarolyn Meyer is one of our most prolific contemporary authors of historical fiction for young people, and has tackled novelizations of the lives of many famous women from history including Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, and Anne Boleyn. In her newest young adult novel, she turns her pen (or computer?) to one of the most celebrated women in history, Cleopatra.
As in the other books in her Young Royals series, Meyer concentrates on Cleopatra's teen years, as the queen reminisces about her life in a diary-like format with very brief chapters. As the book opens, Cleopatra is 10 years old, and clearly the favorite daughter of King Ptolemy XII. Young Cleopatra is surrounded by intrigue at court, particularly from her two ambitious and jealous older sisters, yet secretly dreams of one day becoming a great ruler of Egypt.
Meyer portrays Cleopatra as a highly intelligent young woman, with a gift and passion for learning, especially for languages, and compassion for her future subjects. Despite her wealth and privilege, she enjoys going out in disguise among the common people, "not only to escape the dull routine of my life in the palace but also to savor the exciting sights and sounds of the city." Cleopatra is eager to learn everything she can about politics; her beloved father has just come back from Rome, and speaks candidly to Cleopatra about his meetings with the powerful Roman triumverate, including the ambitious Julius Caesar. Soon the royal entourage embarks on a journey down the fabled Nile river, traveling in great luxury, as Cleopatra observes, amidst the great poverty of their subjects. The river is filled with treacherous crocodiles, and the boats with equally treacherous courtiers. As she visits temples and the famed pyramids of Giza with her father, Cleopatra is careful to hide her lofty ambitions from her sisters, who she realizes would stop at nothing to get rid of her if they felt she was a threat.
The voyage down the Nile serves as a clever way to incorporate the many sights and sounds of Egypt into the narrative, as we experience along with Cleopatra the glories of her realm. Meyer weaves in many details about Egyptian society at the time, including the royals' love of beautiful clothes and jewelry, their games, pets (monkeys and baboons) meals and customs (such as wearing a fake beard at ceremonial appearances). On the voyage, Cleopatra befriends a young dancer in the royal harem, Charmion, who teaches Cleopatra how to dance. Perhaps this dancing skill is incorporated to establish part of Cleopatra's seductive charm later in her life.
When political turmoil forces Cleopatra's father to go into exile, he promises her that they will one day rule Egypt together. With his departure, who can Cleopatra trust? Now eleven years old, she is not old enough to rule. Her duty, she realizes, is just to survive, with treachery all around her.
When her father returns several years later, he names Cleopatra as queen, but at her father's death, she must marry her brother, according to Egyptian custom. Since her brother was only 10 years old, Meyer takes pains to point out that Ptolemy XIII "will be my husband in name only." Now 18 years old, Cleopatra and her brother travel down the Nile to Memphis and then to Thebes for elaborate coronation ceremonies. Although young, Cleopatra is confident in her abilities but dreams of having a man by her side who could be a real companion to her.
In this book Cleopatra is introduced to both her famous Roman lovers: Marcus Antonius, a handsome Roman cavalry commander whom she is attracted to immediately, and also Julius Caesar, whom she meets after being smuggled into the palace wrapped in a rug. Caesar becomes her lover, although the book does not include any explicit sex scenes. Meyer's narrative basically concludes when Caesar leaves his lover Cleopatra, now pregnant with his child, and Egypt to return to Rome; a brief epilogue, set 17 years later, allows Cleopatra to tell about the end of her life, including the famous suicide by poisonous snake.
The novel's extensive back matter includes an essay on Cleopatra in history, a note from the author, bibliography, a selection of websites, a timeline, a glossary of Egyptian gods and goddesses mentioned in the text, and an explanation of the Egyptian calendar.
I found this to be a very enjoyable introduction to Cleopatra for tween and teen readers; the ending, however, felt a little abrupt because of skipping over quite a few years of her life to get to the infamous suicide at the end. However, this format is also perhaps dictated by Meyer's desire to concentrate the narrative on Cleopatra's teenage years. Also, I would have liked to learn more about her romantic life with Caesar. What attracted her to this powerful man who was so much older than she was? What was their relationship like? Nonetheless, Meyer has created in this novel a compelling portrait of the young years of a great figure in history, effectively evoking the sights and sounds of ancient Egypt. ...more
Award-winning British author Kate Thompson, perhaps best known for The New Policeman, transports us to ancient Rome in her newest book, a slim volumeAward-winning British author Kate Thompson, perhaps best known for The New Policeman, transports us to ancient Rome in her newest book, a slim volume perfect for those just starting out with chapter books.
When the book opens, our hero, Marcus, a humble baker's son, suddenly finds himself holding a magnificent horse--one with a blanket of royal purple, a collar studded with precious jewels, and a lead rope of solid gold. This is no ordinary steed--this is Incitatus, named as Consul by the crazy Emperor Gaius Caligula, referred to in the novel as Little Boots because he often wore miniature soldiers' boots as a child.
Something big is happening, but all Marcus can do is head for home on the back of the noble horse, who outruns soldiers and jumps over carts to make it back to Marcus' family compound. With the horse temporarily hidden away in the family bakery, the family learns that there's a rumor the emperor is dead. And what to do with the horse? Marcus' grandmother insists he's signed a death sentence for the whole family by bringing Incitatus to their property. But in the meantime, he's a consul, and must be treated as an honored guest!
Marcus, as Incitatus' new companion, soon is witness to the coronation of the next emperor, Gaius' stuttering uncle Claudius, and saves Incitatus from sacrifice to the gods. A happy ending is in store as the horse, stripped of his consular ranking, takes on a new role--delivering bread to the people of Rome.
An author's note at the end of the book explains that while Caligula and Incitatus actually existed, Caligula never really made Incitatus a consul, although he threatened to do so.
This book's fast-paced story, with its mix of adventure, humor, and some history as well, should appeal to those children who are just stepping up from beginning readers to chapter books. The book is abundantly illustrated with whimsical, cartoon-like black and white drawings by Jonny Duddle which add both humor and immediacy to the narrative. It's also a good choice for horse lovers who are looking for something different than the usual girl-focused horse stories. ...more
One of the best things about good historical fiction is its ability to draw us into other countries and other times that we may know little to nothingOne of the best things about good historical fiction is its ability to draw us into other countries and other times that we may know little to nothing about. I will admit that I don't know much about ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) beyond what I learned when I took college "Western Civ" (as we called it back then) quite a few years ago. So I was delighted to travel to this exotic time through Marjorie Cowley's engrossing novel The Golden Bull. Cowley has taught prehistory to school children from first grade to high school for many years, but didn't begin writing for children until her 60's. Her first two books focused on prehistoric times, but The Golden Bull fills a special niche by focusing on Mesopotamia, an area covered in 6th grade history here in California.
Times are hard in the countryside where our main character, 14-year-old Jamar, lives with his sister and family; crops are failing because of a long-lasting drought and there is not enough to eat. Hoping to save the children from famine, their parents send them to the city of Ur, where Jamar will be the new apprentice to Sidah, a master goldsmith for the temple of the moon-god. But his sister, a gifted but untrained musician, is not wanted in Sidah's household. Jomar takes quickly to assisting the goldsmith with crafting a magnificent gold and lapis bull which will embellish a special lyre to be used in the temple. But will his sister, too, find a place in the city? When she is accused of stealing a valuable lapis bead, she must face a terrible test of determining guilt or innocence--being thrown into the water of the sacred Euphrates river, a river whose existence was as critical to this region as the Nile to Egypt.
Cowley peppers her fast-moving story with many historical details about life in the era, as well as including an author's note which explains how what we know about the period is based on the work of archaeologists who have uncovered ruins and every day objects. I especially liked that the golden bull of the title as well as other items described in the text are actual treasures found in a burial site in Ur. Obviously these items sparked Cowley's creative imagination and led to the creation of this well-researched story.