Stuck and bored in their hometown one summer while all the other kids are away on vacation, twins Emma and Josh and their mischievous little sister Libby are whisked away on an unexpected journey of their own.
Following Libby into a suspicious travel agency as the kids walk around the city alone, Emma and Josh meet the store owner and open his “Travel Guide to Ancient Egypt” only to find themselves—and Libby too—transported back in time to Egypt circa 2500 BCE. The time travel literary device, while familiar to older readers, is likely to retain its excitement for younger ones as the plot moves briskly along, landing the siblings in Ancient Egypt after just a few pages.
The book is non-fiction at heart, but non-fiction framed by narrative. The scrapes and adventures that Emma, Josh, and Libby get themselves into allow for the clever inclusion of interesting facts about Ancient Egyptian culture. Excerpts from the magical travel guide accompany each page, so that the reader picks up information about Ancient Egyptian tools and construction, economy, cultural customs—from diet to dress to mummification—and more, all while remaining engrossed in the plot surrounding the trio of children.
The storytelling is functional rather than literary. There is virtually no characterization in the text, with the narrative focused on moving the plot forward. Characterization and humor are provided by the illustrations. Without the dynamic drawings and engaging speech bubbles, the story itself—as relayed in white boxes at the upper left of each panel—would be fairly dry. Each page includes vividly colored illustrations, the box containing narrative, characters’ speech bubbles, and a non-fiction “travel guide excerpt” at the bottom. Although the layout is busy, it consistently follows that template throughout. Readers should quickly figure out what’s going on and how best to read the book.
The illustrations are colorful, detailed, and effective at portraying action and personality. The depictions of Egyptian culture seem carefully researched, but have a slightly exaggerated quality that at times verges on problematic. The Ancient Egyptians are by no means cast as antagonists throughout the book. However, when Josh, Emma, and Libby find themselves cornered in a pyramid by the king’s guards, the illustrations highlight the guards’ features (namely, their darker skin and large noses) in a way that felt questionable.
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt is an update of Adventures in Ancient Egypt (2000), Bailey and Slavin’s original edition of the graphic novel. This book is set to be followed by reissues of other books from the Good Times Travel Agency series, which included travels to Ancient China, Greece, and the Viking Age. Such exaggeration of the circumstantial villains could simply be a characteristic of the series, as applicable to the Viking bad guys as the Ancient Egyptian ones. A review of the other books in the series is necessary before a conclusion can be drawn as to whether the illustrations represent characters from all cultures fairly.
Though the publishers classify the book as for ages 8-12 or grades 3-7, Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt is more appropriate for the lower end of this age range. For most middle schoolers, the text would be transparently educational and lose its entertainment value. The book is one of those slim paperback volumes that seems destined for crushing or misplacement on a public library’s shelves. Taken as a whole, Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt seems most ideal for inclusion in a school or classroom library, where it could truly shine as an entertaining supplement to a unit on Ancient Egypt.
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt
by Linda Bailey
Art by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12