I have been asked to review this wonderful book for two main reasons; firstly to celebrate National Non-fiction November and secondly to commemorate the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon. Of course I was absolutely delighted to do so, mainly because I love Ancient Egypt and as a child in the 1960s I had ambitions to be an Egyptologist. This year also sees the bicentenary of Champollion’s first work which opened a window on how we understand hieroglyphs, so all told this is a very important year for understanding and celebrating the wonder that is Egypt. This led to an explosion in interest from museums and collectors in Europe and then the USA What this really shows is how items have been transported across the world in the last two hundred years, finding homes from the USA to Europe, but also thankfully being cared for in Egypt itself. The new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo is scheduled to open in November 2022, to coincide with the centenary commemoration. It will be the largest archaeological museum in the world and I would love to go back to Egypt and visit it.
This glorious book is aimed at younger audiences, but also works as a starting point for children in KS2 and beyond. The text is shown as bullet points and there is a small ‘fact file’ for each item; this shows where it was discovered and where it can be seen today. However, it is the illustrations that are the star of the show; the illustrator has given us images of such wonderful complexity and detail that we feel that we are in the presence of the real objects. Importantly though, we are able to see the fine detail and appreciate the skill of the crafts people who worked on these treasures over 3000 years ago in many cases.
Although the commemorations at the moment are for the period of the 18th dynasty (approximately 1330 bce) and many of the images date from that dynasty and the following one, there are also beautiful artifacts from 800 years earlier and also much later. One of the objects that I am particularly fond of is a small statue of a seated scribe, which although it is nearly 4500 years old is stunningly modeled and gives a feeling of great calm and character. It seems strange that whilst Egyptian wall carvings and paintings appear very flat, the sculptures are far more lifelike, even at this early stage of the civilization.
Another set of images that are really stunning are the set of three inter-stacking coffins for a princess Henettawy. She lived about 400 years after Tutankhamun and as a member of the royal family she served as an important priestess of Amun-Ra. In order to find out more about this lady, I visited the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548264
It was fascinating to discover that she was only 21 years old when she died, perhaps not that surprising given the health risks that people faced, but as a priestess she would have had a better diet and living conditions that most of the population.
The final image that I have decided to show, is one of the most famous items from the tomb of Tutankhamun and I am happy to say that I have actually seen it when we visited Egypt in the early 1990s. The throne of Tutankhamun is absolutely exquisite from all angles; however, it is the back rest that really draws everyone’s’ attention. The image of the young pharaoh and his wife is so beautifully portrayed, with a real sense of the close relationship that they appeared to have. Whilst this type of imagery became quite normal during the reign of his father Akhenaten, it is far less formal than is usually found in most Egyptian art work and definitely when portraying royalty.
I hope that I have been able to give you a flavour of this book and the magnificent images that have been chosen to show the splendour that was Ancient Egypt. Studying this civilization is still part of the primary curriculum and every school will have a collection of books and other materials, to help the children understand what life was like. This book is a five star addition to any school library or classroom and I really do recommend it.
Thank you to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG) for asking me to take part in the events this month and also to the publisher WeldonOwen for providing a copy of the book for review.