mara, daughter of the nile

Alyce at At Home with Books is doing a weekly feature where she highlights one of her favorite reads from the past and encourages others to do so as well.

True confession: I was homeschooled. Not for all of my primary and secondary school years, but for a substantial chunk of time. Third grade through eighth grade, to be exact. In non-US parlance, that’s from age 8 to 14. Reason? At age 7, the local public school system tested children to see who they would place in the ‘gifted’ program, which was an advanced track of study and which prepared you for all sorts of ‘honors’ courses.

The test was an IQ test, I think. It was hard. There were questions about how many different ways you could use a fork. I didn’t make the cut. Cue: horror! My mom, who’d been helping in the classroom, was a tiny bit bewildered. Why didn’t I qualify? (it’s obvious to me now that she thought I was a little child genius…luckily I know better. ha!) That led to her think about education and what sort of things she wanted her kids to have access to. In the end, she took all of us out of school and started our home education.

That’s a brave step, no matter who you are. Thankfully, my mom has a Master’s degree and knew or got advice on how to take advantage of curriculum fairs, cultural exhibits, science programs and anything that might help. The result was memorable. It was fun. And it was definitely the start of my love affair with books and reading. I remember one school year when my mom was particularly frazzled by trying to teach my brothers to read – she just gave me a stack of books, and told me if I finished those, to come back for more.

But let’s get this back to one of my favorite reads. I was 11 when mom/teacher decided we were going to do an Ancient World unit. We started with Egypt and worked our way through Greece and Rome. All of us kids remember those lessons vividly: salt-dough relief maps, sugar cube pyramids, writing plays about Greek myths and acting out the Punic Wars. I mean, super fun, right? And we had some awesome fiction and non-fiction books to go with the themes.

One of those books was Mara, Daughter of the Nile. It’s an adventure featuring a feisty slave-girl in Ancient Egypt. It has action, intrigue, mummies, tombs and scarabs. In other words, it’s perfect for a fanciful eleven year-old steeped in the world of the Pharoahs.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile is one of Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s (author of Newbery Award-winning The Golden Goblet, Moccasin Trail and The Moorchild) most beloved stories. It chronicles the adventures of an ingenious Egyptian slave girl who undertakes a dangerous assignment as a spy in the royal palace of Thebes, in the days when Queen Hatshepsut ruled. Pulled in different directions by her head and her heart, Mara must decide what her role will be, who to believe and who to trust. The fate of Egypt depends on it!

I think Mara, for me, was one of the first characters whose experiences I wanted to crawl into and live for myself. I didn’t know what she would do next, but she was brave and she was different and she lived in a time I could imagine with my eyes open or shut. I dreamt of being Mara. I also appreciated the richly-drawn historical background. There’s nothing like an Eloise Jarvis McGraw novel to plant you deeply in the past (unless it’s an Elizabeth George Speare novel). The details, the scenery, the cultural differences are all there – and yet it’s not clumsy. It’s believable.

On top of that, I still remember the flow of the prose. Action and adventure written in such a way that you find yourself savoring each word. What fun this book was! I haven’t reread Mara in a while, and I think it may be time. After all, you can definitely measure the absolute popularity of a book when the 1985 version remains in print and available to this day! I bought myself a new copy only this summer.

Recommended for: fans of historical fiction, Newbery books, classic children’s fiction, Ancient Egypt, mystery, and spunky, out-of-the-ordinary heroines.


Alyce said...

This book looks like it would be a great read!

It's nice that you had such a positive homeschooling experience. I had some friends in high school who didn't have a great experience with it, but my sister is homeschooling and her kids love it.

I can't even imagine what it would have been like for me. (My mom dropped out of high school and later got her GED. She never really liked school, plus she and I were at odds a lot when I was growing up, so I don't think homeschool would have worked either way for me.)

Anyway, I will have to see if our local library has this book for a time when I need a good escapism read.

The Cozy Mystery Journal said...

That is amazing of your mom to home school you. I have twin toddlers and I'm in awe of people that homeschool their children, as I couldn't imagine how hard and challenging it must be. Although I imagine it is rewarding too.

That sounds like a great book, and one I should check out.

Tia said...

I can't believe I missed this as a kid; it looks like something I would have loved!

Tia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aimee said...

I so heart that cover. YAY Egypt!

vvb32 reads said...

whoa. that's neat-o about your homeschooling. definitely a good way to go if possible. thanks for the tip on mara. it sounds like a perfect one to add to the newbery award challenge i'm working on ;-D

Kim said...

Well, how cool is all that! Sounds like a great read, too. It takes a certain parent-child relationship to take on home-schooling. Sounds like you had a wonderful mother -- lucky you!

Ginny Larsen said...

i LOVED that book. i remember that i had a scarab necklace (do you remember--blue beetle thing?) and it reminded me of the book.

the best part about salt dough maps was eating little pieces :D

Jenny said...

I absolutely loved this book when I was a kid! I think I read it around the same time you did, and I just thought it was the most exciting book ever. I liked it when the silly little Babylonian princess helped Mara out. :)

If you like Eloise Jarvis McGraw, have you ever read Greensleeves by her? It's by far my favorite of her books (it's even better than Mara), but nobody ever seems to have read it. :\

Emily Kreps said...

this was one of my favorite books too! yeah for homeschoolers! ;-)

Unknown said...

This feature is so hard on my TBR list. I think the only time I don't add your favourite read to my list is when I've already read it! I haven't read this one. Yet.

Love your hat, btw, if I haven't already said that. It is so cool.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Sounds lovely. I've never heard of it.

Cecelia said...

Velvet - this isn't a Newbery book itself, just one by a 3-time Newbery-winning author. I'd suggest The Golden Goblet or Moccasin Trail for your challenge. *grin*

Jenny - I haven't read Greensleeves! Another one to add to the pile!

Bekah said...

What a great review. I'm not sure I've read this book, so I shall have to add it to my list.

Kelly said...

Looks like you have pick #1 for your unsung YA list. :-D

There's still time to post your list to be included in the Monday wrap-up! Just post by Sunday night & you're in. :)

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

Hey I couldn't find your email, so I'll let you know here! I took your post about your small TBR bookshelf and highlighted it on the Sunday Shelves. I have everyone head over to that post. :)

Here's the link

Rebecca, A Clothes Horse said...

Intriguing, it definitely sounds like what I would have loved as a pret-teen/teen. Though, fesity redheads were always my favorite. :)

Really Old Guy said...

My best memory of your home-schooling experience was when we were all on an airplane headed to NY to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

I was across the aisle and you had the window seat and they struck up a conversation with you. You held those two college students (a guy and a gal) "spell-bound" as you related your various homeschooling experiences.

I was eavesdropping as you described myriad creatures and plant life under the ocean and described the game board you and your siblings had constructed for learning fun.

Those college students were very quiet and occasionally looked at each other in disbelief. They couldn't even ask an intelligent question because you quickly filled in their ignorance of the subject of oceans and their denizens.

It was a proud papa moment for me.

My LEAST favorable moment was when I tried to teach you kids something about electricity and electronics. I couldn't get it to a "low" enough level that you could understand it (sigh). That's when I realized that teaching is truly a "gift." I realize today that relating knowledge can take many paths: visual, auditory, sensual, etc.

joanieponytail said...

I read this book back in the 60's (68?) and checked it out of the library so many times that my mom bought me a copy, which was hard because it was out of print and we didn't have the internet. It is a hard back with a blue and orange dustcover. When I first read it the focus was on Mara and Sheftu. As I have gotten older I am intrigued by Inanni and Nekonkh without losing any of my fondness for the first two.
It is one of those stories that stays with you.

Sophy said...

"i care not what color eyes i close forever " is my favorite quote by sheftu <3

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