Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Walk Like An Egyptian

After my unending praise of Middle Grade books yesterday, I thought I would do a rambling on the book that set off my current adoration of the genre.  The book is The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder who besides having one of the coolest names ever, wrote a book that could have come straight from my childhood.  First as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
April has just moved from Hollywood, living with her glamorous...if featherheaded mother to living with her more run of the mill grandmother.  She now lives in an apartment building and soon meets another girl by the name of Melanie.  At first Melanie thinks April, with her false eyelashes and odd updo is a bit strange, but soon the girls, along with Melanie's little brother Marshall find a shared love of Egypt.  Chance is in their favor and they discover a bit of fenced off yard that they turn into a type of temple/shrine/play place for their game.  The three come up with elaborate story lines, rituals, ceremonies, costumes, getting so into the game that on occasion it seems real.  Soon a new girl Elizabeth moves into the neighborhood and joins the game, adding her own pieces of imagination.  Unfortunately the fun is almost ruined when the body of a local child is found.  To make matters worse, this is the second murdered child in the area in two years.   Along with being stuck inside where the adults can keep an eye on them, April is also upset over the fact that her mother, in one of her infrequent communications has told her daughter that she has gotten married, but their is still no place for her.  Halloween finally sees the adults letting up a bit and allowing the children to go trick or treating in supervised groups.  April convinces the kids to sneak off and play the game for a few minutes.  While there, two boys from April and Melanie's class, Ken and Toby crash the game and exchange for letting them play, agree to keep quiet.  The four original players are nervous about the new additions, but it turns out the boys, especially Toby have some great idea's to add to the game.  One night, while she is baby-sitting Marshall, April realizes she left a school book in the yard and takes Marshall to go get it.  On the out of the yard, April is grabbed by a man, and is saved when the Professor, the man who owns the yard the children were playing in, breaks a window and calls for help.  Marshall is able to identify the attacker and the murders are solved.  The Professor allows the children to continue to play in the yard and they all play until they get too old for playing to be cool.
So this is going to be a bit of a different ramble.  I will tell you right now that I loved loved loved this book.  The reason I loved it so much can be directly attributed to my own childhood.  Growing up my parents were pretty strict on the amount of time we spent in front of screens, not just TV, but any consoles, computers or handheld devices.  We were encouraged to play together, and with our friends.  To this end my three siblings and I, along with various friends, came up with the most elaborate games.  Most of the time these games took much longer to set up then they did to actually play.  Looking back the most amazing part was the ability of up to 14 kids (our parent's had a regular get together with a couple other families) ages 3-14 could actually communicate, coordinate and agree on a plan of action.  We had a diverse group, with TONS of idea's, lots of skill sets and and varied interests.  We used to set up whole towns, hold elections, build road signs.  We would write, cast, design, and produce our own plays.  We created whole worlds with their own magics, rules and ecosystems.  Sometimes our games would go on for days.  One of the things that struck me in the
book is that four of the six players were in sixth grade.  I cannot think of ANY sixth graders now who would be caught dead playing imagination games that did not involve a MMORPG game.  It makes me sad that even our younger kids, who are still willing to play, probably spend more time in front of a screen then in their playroom, and by the time they hit Middle School, they have turned into gadget toting pre-teens.  I hate that we now have an environment where we encourage our kids to grow up way to fast in certain area's, while teaching them to rely on social media and other people's opinions, rather then their own sense of self to judge their worth.  I am sure every generation feels like this, but when I read books like this, and realize how many social skills I learned by playing these types of games, and how most kids I know, even if they are in a room with other kids, don't do a whole lot of interaction.  I myself am a technology lover, and I don't want to "go back" to the way things were...I just hope we can find a way to spark that same elaborate sense of play and cooperation that I grew up with.  Ok so this was less of a ramble and more of a personal speculation, but one of the best things about a good book is it makes you think, and this book made me think...and remember.  I give this book an 8 out of 10 Crocodile gods and would suggest it to anybody who remembers a playroom without a screen.  Happy Reading Everybody!
What kind of games did you play growing up?  Do you think kids play differently today?  Do I have a valid point, or am I just old?

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