Next to Roman Diary, this Journal of young Nakht is my favorite in the four-book Diary Series by Richard Platt. The year is 1465 BC, the eighth year of King Hatshepsut’s Reign. Similar to the other three books that I have reviewed (Castle Diary, Pirate Diary, and Roman Diary) – the narrative begins with the young protagonists (usually pre-adolescents) leaving behind their lives as they know it. As young Nakht of Esna, Scribe-in-Training writes in the first page of his journal:
“Yesterday I begged from Father the new roll on which I now set down these words. I want to write down everything that happens, that I might forget nothing. For our lives are about to change, and very soon.”
So yes, the four diaries begin with an end-of-sorts – in anticipation of a new, more exciting life ahead for our young writers. This
makes the journal-writing appear more plausible rather than contrived, and makes for powerful and credible text. This is maintained throughout the narrative since even the way the dates are written in the journal entries is representative of that date and age: “Nineteenth day of the first month of the season of Flood” or “First day of the third month of the season of Planting” – while lengthier and more difficult to follow, it illustrates exactly the things that are valued and are considered important during those days (planting season, floods, heat) and quite possibly it makes more sense to them to name it in that fashion.
Originally from dull and dusty Esna, Nakht sails down the Nile to head to Memphis, Egypt with his big sister Tamyt, his mother, and his Father who is a scribe. When I peeked at the extensive Notes for the Reader at the back, there is a “Who was Who in Ancient Egypt” section – the text demonstrates that next to the king and the nobility, the Scribes come in a close third in the hierarchy of people who are considered important/valuable in society. This is likewise evident in the exercises that he does in his school where the teacher asks them to chant this particular rhyme:
“Be a scribe for he controls everyone, He who works in writing pays no taxes.”
Or this one:
“Be a scribe, who is free of forced labour, and protected from all heavy work.”
I find the image above really cute, because it shows boys with sidelocks (indicating that they are not considered “men” as yet) having their school lessons (on how they can become a scribe) underneath a huge tree. The educator in me can not help but marvel at how far we have gone in teaching and learning. Having taught “Survival and Development in a Global Environment – how
to become Effective 21st Century Educators” in Bahrain (also in Middle East) to long-time public school educators there, this picture here is a testament of how education has
evolved throughout the centuries. From writing on broken pieces of pottery to blackboard to interactive SMARTboards, we have indeed come a long way. As Nakht describes:
“At home I used to write on broken pieces of pottery. (They were just like the bits Father uses for writing quick notes that are not worth a square of papyrus.) But at school here we use slivers of stone instead. When they are full, we scrape off the writing and use them again.”
These days, I wonder whether teachers (or even students) can survive without their powerpoint slides and handouts. And yes, having your lessons underneath the shade of a tree. Now we are enclosed securely in air-tight, perfectly sanitized and airconditioned rooms with wifi connectivity. Not that I don’t like it, but it just seems so romantic discussing philosophical concepts and trigonometry underneath the shade of a tree. Must be the dryad in me. There is nothing romantic however about being beaten by your teacher with a hippopotamus-hide whip if you are unable to follow the lessons during Nakht’s time. As noted by our Egyptian young scribe:
“The ear of a boy is on his back, for he only listens when he is beaten.”
The lessons they learn though have direct relevance to their everyday lives and effectively illustrate the significant role that scribes play in society. One of the questions that their teacher asked them was: “How would you dig the canal so that the river waters the crops in as many fields as possible?” I suppose one of the reasons why most of our students feel so disengaged (and dare I say bored) in school is primarily because they are unable to make that kind of connection between what they are learning in the classroom and how they would be able to make practical use of it in their everyday lives.
The story goes on to describe funeral rites and processions, how bread is made, exciting hippopotamus hunts in the delta (not to mention duck hunts), festivals, brick-laying, and prayer offerings to the gods. I particularly like this photo which shows what happens
to young boys who get into unfortunate accidents after climbing on trees. The medical doctor is referred to as a Sunu and to heal Nakht’s broken arm, the Sunu commanded their servant to “Cut down a tree branch about one cubit long and a hand thick” – the Egyptian 16th century version of what we now know as a “cast.”
The image on the left highlights that there are different types of scribes. There are scribes who are
called “Overseers of goldsmiths,” there are also surveyor scribes and so forth – and each one have clearly-delineated roles to play in society. It also shows how the laborers/artisans live during this time. The lovely thing about the narrative is that the reader gets to relish each and every fact presented because it seems so natural to learn all of these things for one to really understand Nakht’s life.
A case in point would be the fact that King Hatshepsut happens to
be one of the female Kings of Egypt. I may have been taught this in one of my history books as a child but reading Nakht’s story it takes on a different meaning.
Yes, there are tales about mummies and tomb robberies built into Nakht’s journal, but rather than appearing The-Mummy-like and very Hollywood-ish in dimension, Nakht’s story takes on a more believable and full-dimensional lens – thanks to the genius of Richard Platt and the wonderful illustrations of David Parkins. The cleverly-written and illustrated Notes for the Reader are likewise a wonder, it leaves you wanting to know more about what you’ve read. An example would be what I learned about The Rosetta Stone and “cracking the code.” I could just imagine the amount of research it took Platt and Parkins to come up with such a solidly-written historical-fiction picture book. Educators who are teaching world history and discussing Ancient Egypt in class – you can not go wrong with this picture book.
I am happy that GatheringBooks has undertaken this task of coming up with a theme for each month (although starting next year I would recommend that we do it bimonthly – the deadlines are killing me!!!) – if not for our Diary Theme, I would not have known about multi-award-winning Richard Platt and his astounding Diary Series. And yes, please watch out for our feature of Richard Platt on our December Meet the Storyteller Feature.Sources Book Cover from http://www.booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/157/childrens-books/reviews/egyptian-diary-the-journal-of-nakht Page Spread of “Our New Life Begins” http://www.boysintobooks.co.uk/primary/booklist.php?i=12 National Geographic image of King Hatshepsut – http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/product/world-history-biographies/hatshepsut%3A-the-princess-who-became-king—hardcover?prevNav=true The Mummy Movie Poster – http://hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com/2009/04/cars-costumes-and-props-from-mummy-and.html Book borrowed from Community Library Book Photos were taken by me