Zekmet the Stone Carver

Title: Zekmet the Stone Carver: A Tale of Ancient Egypt
Publisher: Harcourt
Author: Mary Stolz
Illustrator: Deborah Nourse Lattimore
Pages: 32pp
Price: Varies (out of print)

Once, at the beginning of history, the great Pharaoh Khafre ruled the land of Egypt. And great he was, in his own mind. Not satisfied with the magnificent pyramid being built in his honor, Khafre demands that his vizier Ho-tep come up with something else, something even more grand that will proclaim Khafre’s greatness until the end of time. But Ho-tep has no imagination. Desperate, he wanders among the laborers who are building Khafre’s pyramid, and it is there that he meets Zekmet ….

Stolz and Lattimore have created a delightful, beautifully-illustrated fable about family, friendship, hope, greed, pride, and the power of imagination. Khafre is a prideful man, more interested in his own immortality than the well-being of his people. Ho-tep is a self-interested sycophant, desperate to save himself and his position. Zekmet is a skilled artisan and humble family man with equally humble dreams: a small plot of land, a sturdy house, and a donkey for himself and his wife and his son. And, whereas Khafre and Ho-tep demean and exploit those around them, Zekmet listens to his wife and takes joy in his son’s curiosity. Each man presents a different model of behavior, a different set of ethics — in other words, this is the perfect story for generating discussion among parents, teachers, and children.

Lattimore’s illustrations are gorgeous: grey-scale watercolors and pencils, layered, hand-rubbed, and dusted with ponce. Spots of color — a jeweled collar, a rug, a stand of rushes — seem to jump off the page. Hieroglyphs, columns, and geometric patterns border nearly all of the pages. It’s a feast for the eyes.

Recommended to anyone looking for a family-friendly fable, as well as fans of Stolz and Lattimore’s other books.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]