Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert with illustrations by Lisa Brown has to be one of the most intriguing picture books I've read this year! This rhyming story layers history, biography, hieroglyphics and intrigue into what, on the surface, is the story of a girl and her beloved pet.
Ewert begins Mummy Cat, "The winds hiss over desert sand, / The moon shines down on empty land. / And long ago . . ." Four pages build suspense, leading up to the introduction of the cat who has "passed through death." One night each century, mummy cat awakens to see if his loving friend has also returned so "that his lonely time can end."
A sad Mummy Cat shuffles the hall, looking for his girl, a queen inspired by the historical Hatshepsut, which Ewert presents as, "Hat-shup-set." I think this is fantastic, helping with pronunciation and supporting the rhyme. Another absolutely fantastic aspect of Mummy Cat is the end matter that, in four pages, covers "Mummies, Cats, Queens and Hieroglyphics" in an engaging way that also reveals the layers of the story.
As mummy cat wanders the tomb, he sees "painted scenes / of his past life, with Egypt's queen." The scenes show the bond between the girl queen and her cat, but as the story unfolds, the event of her untimely death is revealed. The next scenes depict the burial process for the queen and her Mummy Cat. Saddened by the paintings, Mummy Cat heads into a room where all of Hat-shup-set's possessions are spread out, as if she was just playing with them. Carrying her royal ring with him, he waits by her golden coffin where he'll "wait and wait, till his friend reappears: / the queen of his heart . . . for three thousand years."
The final, poignant illustration shows the mummified Hat-shup-set cradling her purring Mummy Cat in her lap. And it is in these illustrations that another story emerges. Brown's illustrations are magnificent and call to mind some of my favorite graphic novels. Her work is detailed but not overwhelming, remaining crisp on the page. Brown's palette is dominated by earth tones with splashes of color that bring the story to life. Mummy Cat begs for multiple readings. At first, I read Mummy Cat for the moving story of a girl and her cat. I went back and read it a second time looking more closely at the illustrations, specifically the paintings on the walls of the tomb and was rewarded with the story of a jealous girl and her monkey bringing about the death of the queen. Before my third reading, I fortified myself by reading the end matter and was rewarded again. Ewert and Brown have placed 17 hieroglyphics in the story that reveal that the jealous girl was Hat-shup-set's sister who wanted the crown for herself! However, yet another close reading will reveal one final thing about her sister. . .
I could go on and on, and I can't believe I have so much to write about a picture book! But, Mummy Cat is a very special picture book that should grab the interest of readers of all ages!
Source: Review Copy