The Tomb of the Boy King by John Frank
Illustrated by Tom Pohrt
There are really three stories here. There is the story of King Tutankhamen, who assumed the throne at the age of 9, and died mysteriously a decade later. A loose sliver of bone within the skull lead to speculation of foul play and court intrigue, an exciting modus exitus.
Then there is the story of the discovery of his tomb by the British archeologist, Howard Carter, in 1922. Of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, King Tutankhamen’s was the only one not significantly plundered by grave robbers. Over 5,000 objects were found, including the life-size golden mask that has become the iconic image of ancient Egypt. The astonishing treasure was housed in the Cairo Museum, where it quietly languished until 1972 when the first of several traveling world tours was launched. Millions of visitors waited in long lines to view the riches at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum – the first blockbuster museum show.
And third, there is the superstition of the ancient mummy’s curse that protected the grave against marauders. The death of Carter’s golden canary by a cobra was to foreshadow the death of his wealthy friend and backer, Lord Carnarvon, during the course of the excavation, a death that was accompanied by a triad of eerie coincidences.
John Frank tells the three intertwining stories in verse form, with the allusions to the mummy’s curse providing an undercurrent of mysterious suspense. Tom Pohrt’s pen and watercolor illustrations have a sepia toned palette reminiscent of old photographs from the era. He includes borders with hieroglyphics or artifacts, thus overlaying the culture of the pharaohs on that of 1920’s Egypt. There are comparatively few non-fiction children’s books that bear repeated out-loud reading, and this is one of them.
Aside: For a lighter take on the King Tut story, try “We Want Our Mummy”, a 1939 movie made when the Three Stooges were at the peak of their zany form. Playing three detectives hired to find the kidnapped Professor Tuttle and the mummy of King Rutentuten (pronounced rootin’ tootin’), the three hail a cab in New York and end up in the desert sands of Egypt, $2,198.55 lighter. After a few “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk”s and some classic dialogue:
(Moe: I got an idea. We’ll make a mummy out of you.
Curly: I can’t be a mummy. I’m a daddy.
Larry: OK, so you’ll be a daddy mummy),
the Three Stooges discover not only the mummy of the midget king but also that of his wife, Queen Hotsy Totsy.