Mysteries of Egypt: The Jewel Fish of Karnak by Graeme Base
Long ago, in ancient Egypt, two scruffy thieve called Jackal and Ibis were caught stealing a golden trinket in the marketplace of Asyut.
They were brought before the Cat Pharaoh.
"Forgive us, O Pharaoh," they begged. "We are but poor and stupid thieves."
The kindly Cat Pharaoh is somehow moved by their manipulative pleas, but the penance she gives certainly fits the crime. The two are ordered to travel up the Nile to Karnak and steal back from the Crocodile King the Jewel Fish belonging to the Pharaoh. But knowing her larcenous minions, she has another command for them:
"Be warned," the Cat Pharaoh told the two as they departed.
"Do not take anything else while you are in Karnak, and know that the Jewel Fish is magical. Be sure it does not get wet."
Taking the Pharaoh's little felucca, the two make their way up the river and hiding the boat in the reeds along the bank, manage to steal into the inner sanctum of the Crocodile King and filch the Jewel Fish right under his nose. Stealing away, however, they cannot resist rewarding themselves with a trio of golden goodies on the way out, figuring that a trio of small trinkets too minor to matter.
But the Crocodile King suddenly discovers the interlopers and his guards give chase. Just ahead of their swords, Jackal and Ibis leap into the first boat they see on the riverbank, a tiny coracle just large enough for themselves and their booty.
"We did it!" they laughed. "We shall win the Cat Pharaoh's pardon and with our three treasures, we will live happily ever after."
But if their consciences are light as a feather, their cargo is not, and the two con men soon find that their little boat is taking on water. Alas, the precious Jewel Fish that is to buy their pardon gets wet, and as the Pharaoh warned, it magically comes alive and leaps into the Nile. The two bumbling bad guys jump in and give chase underwater, where they are confounded by the sight of many almost identical fish. The Jewel Fish, camouflaged among so many look-alikes, escapes them. The two foolish felons return and confess their failure to return the Jewel Fish to the Pharaoh.
"Then you will have to find it," she told them.
The two sat down and began fishing.
And they will probably be fishing there forever.
Unless, of course, you can help them.
Graeme Base is the master of intricate illustrations, perplexing puzzles, and marvelous mysteries. Using the over sized picture book format, he here gives readers a piquant piece of Egyptian mythology, a puzzle which requires decoding hieroglyphs which form the frame for each page, a link to a website which offers clues, and a rotating device in the built-into-the-inside back cover which enables the curious sleuths to recapture the image of the true Jewel Fish of Karnak. All this in one lovely and humorous book, Base's just published, The Jewel Fish of Karnak (Abrams, 2011). Publishers Weekly says it succinctly: "This tale packs in plenty of puzzle solving and Egyptology amid the boldly animated scenes; the illustrations' exquisite details—right down to the comical facial expressions of the bumbling thieves—tell much of the story."