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When I Grow Up…in Ancient Egypt

A new book about life in ancient Egypt is based on a very old story.
Side by side, the Be a Scribe book cover and Michael Hoffen posing with the book in front of objects from ancient Egypt.
© Be a Scribe/Callaway Arts & Entertainment, Courtesy of Michael Hoffen, © Mikhail Kokhanchikov/; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Sixteen-year-old Michael Hoffen (right) is one of the authors of Be a Scribe.

Do adults ever ask you what you want to be when you grow up? It turns out adults have been asking kids this question for thousands of years! In a new book called Be a Scribe, a father in ancient Egypt advises his son about his future career, revealing that parents and kids really haven’t changed all that much. The book’s coauthor, 16-year-old Michael Hoffen, adapted the book from a story that was written more than 3,500 years ago.

Throughout Be a Scribe, a father named Khety tells his teenage son, Pepi, about some of the difficult careers that he should avoid because they take a toll on the body. (Remember, the ancient Egyptians had no modern technology to help with hard labor.) Khety says his own job, working in a mine, is not something Pepi should do. Instead, Khety advises his son to become a scribe. In ancient Egypt, a scribe was a person whose job it was to write things down. It was a highly valued career because few ancient Egyptians knew how to read and write.

A page from Be a Scribe called The Wall Builder includes text and images of related Egyptian objects.

© Be a Scribe/Callaway Arts & Entertainment

In Be a Scribe, Kheti tells Pepi why it’s difficult to be a wall builder, while the authors tell readers how the ancient Egyptians built structures.

Be a Scribe is based on a story called “The Instruction of Khety,” which was written in hieroglyphics, the writing system of ancient Egypt. No one uses hieroglyphics to communicate anymore, so the writing system is not commonly known. But this was no problem for Hoffen. He enjoys translating ancient writing and ended up learning how to read hieroglyphics! (You can read more about hieroglyphics farther down on this page.) Hoffen worked with two co-authors, who are both experts on ancient Egypt.

By describing each of 18 jobs in detail, along with photos of objects the Egyptians left behind, Be a Scribe paints a vivid picture of what it was like to live and work in ancient Egypt. Hoffen and his co-authors also included short bits of the translated ancient story. It’s almost like Khety is speaking to the readers, directly from ancient Egypt—and if he is to be believed, life without modern comforts was pretty tough!

A page from Be a Scribe called The Jeweler includes text and images of related Egyptian objects.
© Be a Scribe/Callaway Arts & Entertainment
What was it like to make jewelry in ancient Egypt? According to Kheti, it wasn’t easy.

But while we may have more luxuries today, some things haven’t changed. Like today’s parents, Khety is a dad who wants what’s best for his son. Hoffen says he learned a lot while working on the book.

“The people living in ancient Egypt then and [the people] living now aren’t all that different,” Hoffen told KATU2.

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Did You Know?

A young boy smiles in front of a banner that says he is the youngest person ever to publish a book.
Guinness World Records

The world’s youngest person to publish a book is Saeed Rashad AIMheiri from the United Arab Emirates. Saeed’s book, The Elephant Saeed and the Bear, was published when he was 4 years and 218 days old.

Writing in Ancient Egypt

We’ve learned a lot about ancient Egypt because the Egyptians left behind a lot of written information. And as you read, they used a writing system called hieroglyphics. The system is made up of more than 700 symbols that represent sounds and words. 

Here’s a small sample of hieroglyphics. The letters are intended to show what each sign would sound like if the symbols were read out loud.

A chart shows each letter in the English alphabet represented by a symbol.
© Vector Art Design/, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Ancient Kings

Four statues of a seated pharaoh are at the entrance to the temple of Ramses II.
© Icon72/
This temple was built by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned between 1279 and 1213 BCE.

In ancient Egypt, every part of life was ruled by the pharaoh, or king. You can learn more about pharaohs at Britannica!

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Part of speech:

: to find the meaning of (something that is difficult to read or understand)

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