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The Golden Goblet
by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

This was probably one of my top ten favorite books when I was a kid. When I started interning at the local Egyptian museum earlier this year, I decided to re-read it since teachers were still using it during their Ancient Egypt units, and kids would mention it when I led school tours. I was also curious to see how well the book has held up over the years – will I still enjoy it as an adult?

Ranofer is a porter in a goldsmith’s shop, lowlier than even the apprentices. More than anything, he wishes to become a goldsmith, too – but after the death of his parents, his older half-brother Gebu refused to pay for his training. When small amounts of gold goes missing from the shop, Ranofer suspects his brother is involved. When he confronts, Gebu, his brother retaliates by pulling Ranofer from the goldsmith’s and forcing him to work in Gebu’s stonecutting workshop instead. Soon, Ranofer suspects that his brother is still stealing, but instead of targeting goldsmiths he has picked a far greater prize: the tombs of the dead!

It’s been at least fifteen years since I last read this book, but I think I enjoyed it just as much as I did back then. McGraw’s writing transports the reader right back into Ancient Egypt – and unlike most of the books I’ve read, which tend to hover around the royal families and their glamorous lives in the palaces, the story is about the people in the middle class. She creates a very clear image of life in the workshops of the artisans who created goods for the tombs of the wealthy elite, from the lowly papyrus maker to goldsmiths who work for the Queen herself.

She also does a wonderful job of explaining the religious beliefs of the peasant classes. Egyptian cosmology is confusing, and the magic rituals and ceremonies recorded by priests and scribes in fancy temples were probably not used by those of humbler origin. Ranofer knows a few of the key gods that affect his life, and at times he can be quite superstitious, and for a boy in his station it seemed appropriate.

The characters aren’t always completely fleshed out. Gebu is a douchebag, to be sure, but we don’t really know why he’s so abusive to his younger half-brother, other than he likes to be in control. The bad guys are always evil, with no redeeming qualities. But for a children’s book, these people have a lot of personality. Ranofer’s friends are funny, clever and loyal. Ranofer himself is thrown into one bad situation after another, but he always keeps his eye on his goal of becoming a goldsmith. He isn’t allowed to become an apprentice? He watches everyone carefully so that he is still learning new techniques. He approaches one of the best goldsmiths in town and tries to convince him to accept his as an apprentice, even though he can’t pay the costs, because he is skilled and willing to work harder than anyone else. He just never gives up, and I really admire that about him.

It makes me sad to skim the reviews of this book on Amazon.com – mostly from kids – and see how many of them are negative because the book is “boring” and “hard”. One parent complained that the language is too complicated for kids, and I find that stance so annoying. First of all, the language isn’t that difficult – there are some Egyptian terms but translations are provided in the same sentence, and while there are some multi-syllable words they aren’t that unusual. Second, even if the language is a little harder, what’s wrong with challenging kids a little? If the book is really beyond them, just shelve the book for a year or two and try again when they’re a little more mature.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Golden Goblet, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Another little break for school…
2010: Happy Thanksgiving!
2009: Going on hiatus…
2008: 22/50 Coraline Boxes Found


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