The Reader Teacher Review
I'm delighted to welcome Thiago de Moraes to The Reader Teacher today to share his guest post about drawing Ancient Egypt with a sense of humour. in A Mummy Ate My Homework...
Big statues, angry baboons and lots of sand
Drawing ancient Egypt with a sense of humour
A Mummy Ate My Homework is the story of a boy called Henry who gets send back in time and spends a whole year in ancient Egypt. A fundamental part of making the book was working out how to re-create 1300 BCE Egypt visually in a way that would be exciting, fun and honest to what we know from archaeological records.
It wasn’t a particularly hard task, mainly because ancient Egyptian art and architecture have been preserved so well. The materials we have as reference are interesting and elaborate and there’s a lot of it to go around, from all the stuff that’s still standing in present-day Egypt to the countless items in museums around the world.
That was a great start, but it wasn’t enough. I did include as many temples, tombs, statues and funerary treasure as I could in the book, but I also wanted to present more than the images of ancient Egypt we are all familiar with, most of which are inevitably informed by state and religious imagery. The majority of ancient Egyptians would not live in grand buildings and temples, wear golden crowns or spend their days like a pharaoh did.
What did a common house look like? What did people wear day to day? Did the sleep in beds? What were their haircuts like? What did they have for breakfast? All these (and countless other) mundane details were things I had lots of fund researching and tried to represent in the illustrations at every opportunity.
The symbolic nature of ancient Egyptian art means that most of what we see from that era looks very formal – rigid compositions, stock poses, limited colour palettes, etc. I wanted to make sure the places Henry visits feel alive, full of people, movement, dirt and confusion.
Here’s an example, the moment Henry enters Waset for the first time:
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a lot of these places (a long, long time ago), travelling all the way from Cairo to Aswan, sailing down the Nile and exploring the Abu Simbel temples. I remember my sense of wonder walking down ruined colonnades in Luxor or trekking through the Valley of the Kings, and that helped me imagine how extraordinary places like that would have felt when they were alive, filled with people, colours and sounds.
The other thing I wanted to be sure of is that all of this was presented (visually as well as in the text) from the perspective of an 11-year old boy, not a 40-year old man who likes drawing odd buildings. Henry pays attention to stuff that a lot of adults would not glance at twice, like the fact all the pharaoh’s statues look a lot more handsome than the pharaoh himself, that the priests at the temple wear leopard pelts over their shoulders (Henry is not amused), or that he has to wear a short skirt and no pants. Most of us would probably notice that last one, actually…
The last thing that we needed to bring all of this to life was colour. I could only use one besides black, and yellow seemed like an obvious choice. A vivid yellow helped evoke lots of things: a sense of place, temperature, wealth, etc. From the desert sands to the blazing sun and all the gold people wore at court, the story would have looked and felt very different if we had used green or blue.
There are 240 pages in the book and all of them are illustrated. At the start of drawing and painting it I worried that things might end up looking repetitive and a bit boring (I also worried I’d never be able to use my right hand again after drawing so much), but there was so much that is wonderful and interesting to show that, in the end, I was upset about everything I had to leave out.
Many thanks to Scholastic, the publisher, for sending me a review copy of this book and for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour.