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Published in 1961 and receiving Newbery honors the next year, The Golden Goblet still rates high on any reading list decades later. Within, young Ranofer wants nothing more than to become a goldsmith in ancient Egypt, but after his father’s death, he must live with his vile half-brother, Gebu, who apprentices him as a stonecutter. After finding an exquisite goblet hidden among Gebu’s clothing, Ranofer becomes convinced that his brother has been robbing tombs in the great Valley of the Kings. But how can he prove it without getting himself killed?
Ranofer makes for a captivating character. Surrounded by wicked men, he keeps his integrity. Among devastating circumstances, he maintains hope. He is the quintessential underdog, and I cheered for him accordingly. Eventually, two companions befriend him, young Heqet and the Ancient, who demonstrate loyalty and friendship Ranofur has never known. As Ranofu struggles to reshape his life to realize his dreams, this bewildered boy matures into a thoughtful, courageous young man who is willing to risk his life for what he believes is right.
Ms. McGraw also paints a stunning portrait of the land, its culture, and its religion. For this reason, The Golden Goblet would make a valuable companion to a social studies unit on Egypt. But it would be equally valuable in any children’s literature class, as she writes with rare artistry. Her prose is fluent and poetic, she’s a master of dialogue, and she chooses wonderfully rich and period-appropriate word pictures. For me, this richness adds tremendously to the pleasure of reading.
While The Golden Goblet successfully held my interest, and it ends with a spine-tingling conclusion, it took a great many slow pages to develop in the middle. Not every reader would stick it out. But in my opinion, it’s worth pushing through. Ms. McGraw has made ancient Egypt come to life and given us a delightfully innocent, lovable, unforgettable hero who, in my favorite scene of the book, is asked by the queen what he would most like in the world and asks for… a donkey!
Recommended for ages 10+.