I’m delighted to welcome Thiago De Moraes to my blog today to talk about his new book, A Mummy Ate My Homework, where he explains writing about gruesome stuff in a not-totally-gruesome way…
A Mummy Ate My Homework, is the story of an 11-year boy called Henry who gets sent back in the time and has to spend a whole year in ancient Egypt. He is lucky enough to end up in the pharaoh’s court, but extraordinarily unlucky in pretty much every single other aspect of his adventure. A lot of that lack of luck comes from all the spooky, disgusting and downright awful stuff he encounters along the way.
A tricky aspect of trying to write about history for kids is how to represent things that aren’t necessarily very nice. A short history of humanity could go like: ‘These people settled down in a nice spot. After a while some other people who were better at fighting came over, beat them up and took everything they had. They then settled down in the nice spot, and after a while some other people who were better at fighting came over, beat them up…’ and so on. Not much fun.
Terrible things don’t belong in the past, of course. There are all sort of horrors that that seem inherent to the human condition: inequality, prejudice, misery, etc, but then there are also a lot of gruesome stuff that is specific to time, place and culture.
That’s the stuff I felt could be turned into humour, not because it is different to what we know, but because it often shows that all the things we take for granted: going to school, weekends, living in a house, wearing pants, etc, haven’t always been around. The fact kids in ancient Egypt drank beer is probably more mind blowing to a 10-year than the fact they built pyramids: kids see giant buildings around them all the time, but they (hopefully) don’t have a pint of bitter with their tea every day.
Here’s how Henry reacts to his first glass (well, cup type thingy) of beer:
There a lot of other moments like these in the story: petting killer crocodiles, having fighting lessons with deadly sharp weapons and eating roasted hyena for dinner are some of the other moments where Henry feels he is very far from home.
And that’s only if you look at the superficial stuff.
Tackling fundamentally moral issues is something that I wanted to do, but initially struggled to achieve in a way that didn’t feel alien to the tone of the story. An obvious example is slavery, something that is, thankfully, so morally repugnant to our contemporary ethical framework that most of the time we fail to engage with the true horror of the reality that it implies. It was not something that could be approached in the same way as clothes or haircuts.
I chose to let it exist in the subtext of the story most of the time, but not to ignore it. Henry becomes fast friends with both a princess and a slave, so it was something that had to be tackled directly at some point. When Henry realises his friend Hano is a slave, he reflects on how absurd and unfair it is that a person could belong to someone else, like an object. I would like to think that seeing a notion like that articulated blankly will be more shocking to a 11-year old than reading about drinking some gravelly beer (as well as being alcoholic, ancient Egyptian beer had all sorts of chaff and stones from milling in it, yum).
There are other serious moments like this in the story, touching on inequality, privilege, the realities of a very rigid society, etc. They are small, but they are there. Hopefully they’ll make us think as much as crazy pet baboons or vomit-inducing chariot rides make us laugh.
Huge thanks to Thiago for that wonderfully insightful guest post, and for sharing some of the fabulous illustrations from the book, and to Scholastic for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour. Do make sure you check out my review , and all of the other stops.
A Mummy Ate My Homework by Thiago De Moraes published by Scholastic has a brilliant activity pack available to continue the fun, which can be downloaded here.