Written and Illustrated by Thiago De Moraes, Published by Scholastic
Welcome to My Shelves Are Full for the blog tour celebrating A Mummy Ate My Homework by Thiago De Moraes! I am thrilled to host a guest post from Thiago about “pesky facts getting in the way”!
Turning history into stories
Pesky facts keep getting in the way
A Mummy Ate My Homework is the story of a kid from present-day Britain who gets sent back in time and has to spend a whole year in Ancient Egypt.
Like in any historically based work of fiction, a lot of research went into learning what the lives of people might have been like in the time and place the story takes place (1300 BCE Thebes). How their routines were, what they wore, ate, how they went about their work, leisure, etc. A lot of this feels very far from the world of Ancient Egypt that we can glimpse from the most popular archaeological evidence we usually encounter, which naturally pushes our imagination towards state and religious ritual, grand events and distant monuments. All that stuff is in there too, of course, but not only that. I wanted to be able to show ordinary stuff alongside the more extraordinary.
There’s a danger in having so many interesting facts around. Sometimes I would get so obsessed in making sure I used all of what I had learned that I would lose track of the story, writing long sequences which were little more than excuses to weave lots of unconnected facts together. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but it made the story I was trying to tell and the people I was writing about fade. The background became the foreground, and vice-versa.
I was rescued from this by a couple of things. An intelligent, engaged editor and the realisation that these stories were not so much about history as much as they are in history. I hoped to be able to give readers a real sense of how it might have felt to be in this time and place, but that always worked better when we walked (or ran in a wild panic, in Henry’s case) through this world. It worked less well when all we did was stand still and gape at it.
Something else that really helped was knowing I was going to illustrate the books myself. That meant I could leave a lot of physical description out of the text and still be sure that it would be part of the book. My fascination with the decorations on top of Egyptian capitals can probably produce passages of text that would cause an insomniac to fall asleep in record time.
Here’s Henry walking into the pharaoh’s palace’s quarters for the first time (lots of columns in this one):
There is something else that helped me move away from a very objective, didactic approach to representing the past in these books. I have the conviction that any experience that is too tidy, pre-digested for consumption and linear will not have any real impact on a reader. A bit of confusion and incomprehension are fundamental parts of learning, and a story is there to be lived first and understood second (even if that story has a lot of interesting new facts to present).
So, instead of just learning how to write in hieroglyphs (which he also does), poor Henry ended up being sat on by giant pet crocodiles, speared by tiny toddlers and chased by mummies. And that’s just the less dangerous stuff.
Thank you so much for writing such a fascinating look at the facts behind this book. My children and I loved reading this historical and hilarious adventure!