If you’re looking for a lighter take on the doomed pharaoh, then feast your eyes on “King Tutankhamun Tells All!,” by Chris Naunton, with illustrations by Guilherme Karsten. A British Egyptologist whose books for adults include “Searching for the Last Tombs of Egypt,” Naunton has written an irreverent biography for children, packed with tasty nuggets about ancient Egyptian history and culture. Naunton’s narrator is the 3,300-year-old pharaoh himself, simultaneously annoyed by the streams of visitors who won’t leave him in peace and flattered by all the attention he’s getting.
In the book, Tutankhamun gossips about his “bonkers” family, led by the pharaoh believed to be his father, Akhenaten, who forced Egyptians to worship new gods and moved the entire population of Thebes to a new capital named for him up the Nile. By the time Akhenaten died and Tutankhamun took the throne at 9, the family had become so unpopular that the boy feared their tombs would be defaced. “I mark everything with my royal seal to make sure no one touches anything,” he divulges. All that drama suggests that something nefarious might have been behind Tutankhamun’s early death a decade later. The dead king advances a few theories — murder, chariot accident, infected broken knee — before deciding to keep it all a mystery.
Naunton’s deep expertise about ancient Egypt infuses every page of the book, especially his fascinating details about Tutankhamun’s burial and the preparations for his afterlife. The pharaoh’s demise was so unexpected, we learn, that he was jammed into someone else’s ill-fitting sarcophagus, forcing the priests to saw off one end of it. The objects crammed into his tomb were both aesthetically pleasing and practical, including a golden chariot meant to speed his spirit, or ka, to its next destination, known in Egyptian cosmology as Duat. Twelve baboons painted on the wall signified the 12 hours that it would take to get there.
Karsten’s colorful drawings make an appealing accompaniment to Naunton’s explainers about hieroglyphics, mummy making and the banquet prepared for the dead king’s corpse. That slumber was interrupted when a certain British archaeologist came prowling through the Valley of the Kings nearly 100 years ago. “I’ve been asleep for some centuries now, enjoying my afterlife in full,” the dead pharaoh declares. “So you can imagine how annoyed I am when Howard Carter digs me up in 1922.”
Both of these enjoyable books are reminders that the search for and discovery of Tutankhamun is an adventure story that, like the pharaoh’s mummy, doesn’t spoil with age.