Critical Context

The Egypt Game was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1968. In 1967, it received the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the George G. Stone Recognition Award of Merit, and the first prize at the Spring Book Festival. It was on the American Library Association’s List of Notable Books and the Horn Book Honor List for 1967.

The idea for The Egypt Game stemmed from what Zilpha Keatley Snyder refers to as the “Egyptian period” of her childhood, when she became totally absorbed in anything having to do with ancient Egypt. The setting and the characters of the six children came from her years as a teacher in Berkeley.

The diverse cast of ethnic characters was considered rare for the period in which Snyder was writing. The six children become friends, paying no attention to race or color: April and Toby are European American, Melanie and Marshall are African American, and Elizabeth and Ken are Asian American. The occupations of the African American parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ross, are not stereotypical: Mrs. Ross is an elementary teacher, and Mr. Ross is a graduate student at the university who is planning to teach poetry and literature. Mr. Ross calls April “the cruelest month.”

Snyder used the public library as a child to help feed her imagination. Throughout The Egypt Game, the reader will note the importance that Snyder attaches to libraries and reading. Caroline works at the university library. April and Melanie go to the public library almost every day, where they are beginning to be called the Egypt Girls. Toby also uses the library; when playing the oracle in the game, Toby says he looked up the main words in a big book belonging to his father called Somebody’s Famous Quotations.

Snyder had an active imagination when she was a child and has carried it into her career as an adult writing for children. The Egypt Game is often considered her best work.