I really enjoy sharing my favorite living books with you. It’s like introducing delightful old friends that I know will help and support you along your homeschool journey. Today I will give you my top ten picks for studying Ancient Egypt.
These are the ten living books that are scheduled into the lesson plan guide called Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt. We like to pair ancient history with Bible history, and I’ll cover my favorite Bible history books in another post. Today, let’s focus on Ancient Egypt.
I’m going to mention books across all the grades. Some of them you can read aloud to all of your students together; others you can assign to specific grade levels.
Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors by Lorene Lambert (Grades 1–12)
This is my favorite family read-aloud for this time period. It does a masterful job of helping you learn about the Ancient Egyptian history and culture, but it doesn’t ignore the rest of the world. It includes chapters on Ancient Egypt’s “neighbors,” too, and tucks into each one a fascinating story about that part of the world. Your students will discover why a tiny carved cylinder was so important to Ancient Sumerians. They’ll ponder the puzzle of a vanished people in the Indus Valley whose writing we still can’t decipher. They will hear how a stone finger pointing to the sky in Ancient Babylon influenced our system of justice today, and why writing on turtle shells assured a lasting dynasty in Ancient China, and many more stories of ancient civilizations. You’ll find a helpful pronunciation guide in the back (Some of those ancient names are challenging!), or you can grab the audiobook of this title. And feel free to break up the chapters into shorter sections if you need to. It’s a great book for the whole family.
The other titles I recommend for the whole family are supplemental books that elaborate on something mentioned in Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors. That’s your spine book; the rest branch off of it.
These two books will help your family dig deeper into the topic of the pyramids. Both books are very similar: The Great Pyramid by Elizabeth Mann and Pyramid by David Macaulay. Choose one or the other; I wouldn’t do both. The Great Pyramid is in color with some photographs; Pyramid is in black and white with exquisitely detailed drawings. Both tell the story of all that went into building a pyramid: why it was built, how the land was chosen, how it was built, what was put inside. Pyramid goes into more detail about the skills and equipment and engineering of the construction. The Great Pyramid is written into our lesson plans, but really, you can use either book. Both are highly recommended.
Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman (Grades 1–12)
Along those same lines of a book that elaborates on how and why something was built is the book Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman. It is suitable and interesting for the whole family, as well; but unfortunately, it is currently out of print. If you happen to find it at your local library or used at a reasonable price, grab a copy. Most people are familiar with the great pyramids as the final resting place of the pharaohs, but not everyone knows about the magnificent boats that Cheops commissioned to be built and buried near his pyramid. This book tells the story, skillfully interweaving the narrative between the original ship-builders and the modern-day archeologist who discovered and uncovered them. If you can’t find a copy of this book, don’t despair; your children will still learn a great deal from all of the other wonderful books recommended here. But if you happen to find a copy of Pharaoh’s Boat, keep in mind that it’s a good one too.
Updated November 2020: We’re pleased that Purple House Press has brought this wonderful book back into print.
Boy of the Pyramids by Ruth Fosdick Jones (Grades 1–3)
This is my absolute favorite book for first through third graders studying Ancient Egypt. (In fact, I loved this book so much that we brought it back into print.) This is a gentle mystery, set in Ancient Egypt, about a ten-year-old boy named Kaffe who has many adventures with his friend Sari, a slave-girl. They experience firsthand the harvest feast, the fight of the bulls, the flooding of the Nile, and the mystery of the pyramid’s missing jewels. I appreciate how this historical fiction helps younger students get a good feel for life in Ancient Egypt, but it doesn’t depend on a fear factor or sensationalize the mummies and gods and such. It mentions some of the gods that the Egyptians worshiped in one chapter, when the family goes to the temple to present a harvest offering, but myths and gods are not the focus of the narrative. Your younger children are sure to enjoy this fabulous historical fiction and retain a vivid mental picture of life in Ancient Egypt.
The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Grades 4–9)
And while we’re talking about historical fiction, let me tell you about The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. This is another mystery set in Ancient Egypt, but it’s more for fourth through ninth graders. The events in the story are a little more intense, not as gentle as Boy of the Pyramids. The main character, a young man named Ranofer, endures some hard situations and difficult relationships, especially with his half brother, Gebu. In fact, Ranofer discovers a golden goblet that his half brother stole from one of the great tombs. If he can prove that Gebu committed this shameful crime, Ranofer will also be able to win his own freedom. Another great mystery that will really give your fourth- through ninth-graders a “feel” for life in Ancient Egypt.
The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne (Grades 4–9)
This book delves more into the individual pharaohs and their lives and reigns. Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors talks about some of the pharaohs, but this book goes more systematically through the main ones in chronological order. However, it is not a dry textbook at all. This is one of the Landmark Books, a series that I’ve mentioned in some of the other favorite book posts. Landmark Books do a fabulous job of telling a living narrative that makes historical people come to life in the reader’s mind. The chapters are long; you’ll want to sub-divide them into shorter sections. But if you combine the wider perspective of Egyptian culture and what was happening in the world around Egypt that’s given in Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors, with this more detailed look at the prominent pharaohs through the years, and toss in some historical fiction for “flavor,” your students will have a wonderful living study of Ancient Egypt.
I have four more books on my list, and these are for seventh grade and up.
The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G.A. Henty (Grades 7–9)
First, The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G. A. Henty. Some of you may recognize that author’s name. Henty wrote many, many historical fiction titles across a wide range of time periods. You should be able to find them free online. The Cat of Bubastes weaves the story of Amuba, a young prince in a neighboring country, who is captured and taken to Ancient Egypt. Through his time as a slave there, the reader learns much about the culture and climate and politics. When a sacred cat is accidentally killed, Amuba is caught up in a chain of adventures. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that a Hebrew girl plays a supporting role in the storyline and a young Moses makes a cameo appearance. One thing you will want to discuss with your student is the book’s explanation that the multitude of gods that Ancient Egyptians worshiped represented the various characteristics of the one true God. It’s a good discussion starter and one of the reasons I recommend this book for older students, grades 7–9. By the way, if you want the audiobook version of this title, check Jim Hodges’s version at jimhodgesaudiobooks.com. He has recorded the entire series.
Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay (Grades 7–12)
This is a completely different type of book from any that we’ve talked about so far. Motel of the Mysteries is a humorous book that will encourage your older students to think about how much we actually know about an ancient civilization and how much may be conjecture. In the book some future archaeologists uncover the ruins of a motel and seek to grasp our present culture based on what they find there. For example, they conclude that the big screen in the room must be very important—possibly an object of worship—since all of the other furniture in that room is arranged to face it. It’s a great lighthearted way to start a discussion on both the discoveries and the limits of our studies in history. I recommend it for grades 7–12.
Then for your high schoolers, grades 10 through 12, let me mention one historical fiction and one digging-deeper book.
Uarda by Georg Ebers (Grades 10–12)
First, the historical fiction. It’s an old gem called Uarda by Georg Ebers. Look for this one free online, and make sure you get both volumes. It was originally published in two volumes, and there is nothing more frustrating than ending up with only one of them! Two things I want to mention about Uarda: first, it contains some good philosophical discussions between characters, which will encourage your older student to think about those deeper ideas and spawn some good discussions; second, it presents a picture of the various Egyptian gods and each one’s priests and temples in a way that I hadn’t thought about before. It basically compares them to our current college and university system, complete with marketing and competition and loyalty and rivalry between the establishments—in an ancient setting, of course. That concept really made Ancient Egypt come alive for me. It’s not an easy read, and the author included footnotes all the way through, explaining his reasoning and research; but once I got into the storyline, it made a deep impression on me and I hope it will do the same for your high schooler.
Unwrapping the Pharaohs by John Ashton and David Down (Grades 10–12)
Then the last title I want to mention is somewhat like an older-student version of The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt that I mentioned earlier. This book is Unwrapping the Pharaohs by John Ashton and David Down. It includes extension photographs, good maps, and a timeline that seeks to align the pharaohs with Bible events. The subtitle is “How Egyptian Archaeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline.” It’s a fascinating book for those older students who already have the foundation of living books on the time period and are ready for a deeper dive. I recommend it for grades 10–12.
So those are my top ten picks for studying Ancient Egypt. As I mentioned, two of the titles are published by Simply Charlotte Mason: Boy of the Pyramids (recommended for grades 1–3) and Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors (recommended for the whole family). And if you would like daily lesson plans that will give you a schedule for reading these ten books over a school year, check out the Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt guide.