What Is the Story of the Mummy? by Sheila Keenan,  illustrated by Carlos Basabe

What Is the Story of the Mummy? by Sheila Keenan,  illustrated by Carlos Basabe. Penguin Workshop, 2021. 9781524788483

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback

What did you like about the book?  Another entry in the WhoHQ universe, this time from a series on legendary monsters. Companion volumes include What is the Story of Dracula and What is the Story of Frankenstein? Here Keenan explores the connection between the near universal fascination with mummies and Egyptology (especially as it correlates with the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb) and the rise of bandaged monsters in movies. She also provides a short overview of mummies in other parts of the world, and distinguishes between accidental preservation and the elaborate process mastered in ancient Egypt. Synopses of several classic mummy movies and their stars follow, from The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff, to the more recent franchise starring Brendan Fraser. Small black-and-white sketches show tombs, digs, hieroglyphs and movie stars, and will help young readers grasp some of the tougher vocabulary. A colorful mummy timeline closes out the book. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I was uneasy with the tone of the book. Dracula and Frankenstein started out as literary creations, whereas the Mummy grows out of a fear and fascination with an ancient culture. I understand these books are meant to be fun, but to pull back from mentioning that much of the power of this monster comes from fetishizing a highly developed civilization underestimates young readers. Keenan  does not discuss how Western archeologists removed these artifacts from their countries of origin, which are still actively involved in trying to retrieve them, although some mention is made of the disrespectful fate of some mummies (burned as fuel or crushed into fertilizer). Similarly, the movies mentioned would definitely seem insensitive to most contemporary viewers and that too could have been explored and discussed.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Diehard WhoHQ readers in grades 2-5.

Who should buy this book? Elementary or public libraries

Where would you shelve it?  791.43

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: September 1, 2021

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