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We're Sailing Down the Nile: A Journey through Egypt Review by Kevin Dayton

Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

We're Sailing Down the Nile: A Journey Through Egypt is a 26-page book that uses a simple poem with colorful full-page illustrations to describe a sailboat trip down the Nile. The poem takes travelers from the statues of Ramses II at Abu Simbel to the Giza pyramids near Cairo. Along the way are stops at museums, a traditional Egyptian marketplace, an oasis, ancient Egyptian monuments, and the bustling city of Cairo. The book concludes with eleven pages of colorfully presented educational information, including a map, a history of ancient Egypt, a pyramid depicting the social hierarchy of ancient Egyptian civilization, and descriptions of the ancient Egyptian gods.

The strongest element of the book is the vivid illustrations. A slogan of Barefoot Books is "Celebrating Art and Story," and the book does have exceptionally rich and beautiful ink-and-watercolor illustrations on the cover and inside. This is in keeping with the statement on the Barefoot Books website that "At Barefoot, we are convinced that introducing high-quality images to children at an early age . . . plays a critical part in their emotional and intellectual development."

I read the book alone and then read it to my 5-year old son and 4-year old daughter. I felt the poem was limp and uninspiring, and it was childish compared to the educational section in the back. As I read the poem to them, my children had questions, such as what was being sold in the marketplace and what fruits and vegetables were being harvested for village shops. The book did not say, and the drawings did not provide much information.

Immediately upon opening the book, my children noticed the architecture of the mosques, with their minarets depicted in the illustrations, and wanted to know what they were. That question was not answered in the book either. Rather than discussing Islam, the book emphasizes the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. In the poem section of the book, there is a rectangular picture on the upper right-hand corner of each right page with a drawing of a god or goddess. I did not understand why those pictures were there until I reached the guide to gods and goddesses almost at the end of the book.

How can you have a children's book about ancient Egypt without mentioning the elevated status of domesticated cats? In fact, the illustrations on the front and back inside covers include cats, even though the book barely discusses them. While the book mentions the mummification of crocodiles, cats were also mummified--and in great numbers.

Finally, I would strongly dispute the book's claim at the beginning of its history section that "for more than three thousand years, Egypt ruled the civilized world." What about such ancient civilizations as China, the Persian Empire and its antecedents, classical Greece, the Roman Republic, and the Israelites, just to name a few of the most obvious? Homeschoolers could use this statement as an exercise to prove that something isn't necessarily true just because it is presented as fact in a book.

My children enjoyed the colorful drawings, especially of the pyramids and Sphinx, both of which fascinated them long before they read this book. While this book might be a fun supplement to a study of ancient Egypt, I probably would not choose it as a primary source of information. Pick one that discusses cats!

Product review by: Kevin Dayton, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008