By Malayna Evans
Two things inspired me to write Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh.
The first was my son, then nine, now sixteen (!), who asked me over lunch one day what ancient Egyptians looked like. When I told my beautiful, biracial son he’d fit in well, he told me someone should write a book about a kid who looked like him lost in ancient Egypt. I’d spent a huge chunk of my life earning a Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history. So, you know, seemed like maybe that person should be me.
Which brings us to my second inspiration: ancient Egypt. I don’t work in the field, but my passion for ancient history has never dimmed. The roots of my interest lie in my middle grade years, and, specifically, my fascination with Sci Fi. Raised in small-town Utah, I think the genre attracted me in part because I loved the idea of goddesses. (Yeah, rebellion came early for me … and easily to me!)
Eventually, I earned M.A.s in Greek and Roman, and Mesopotamian and Egyptian, history, before deciding Egypt was my true love. That’s a lot of words to say that I just wanted to make learning about ancient Egypt fun for middle school aged kids. And yet, when I wrote my first draft, I loaded it up with pedantic historical details. I picked a good setting, one of the weirdest periods in the ancient world: the Amarna Period, when the Pharaoh Akhenaten tried to replace the traditional gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt with his favorite deity, the sun disc, Aten. But I ruined it with scholarly historical theories about genealogy and architecture and … bla, bla, bla … a bunch of boring stuff that I tediously wove into the story.
I should have known, right? No kid wants to read that. So after finishing one full draft, I tossed it out and started again. And this time, I tried to put Historian Malayna on the backburner, so Storyteller Malayna could lead. In lieu of arcane knowledge, I turned to magic and giant scorpions and flying amulets. I made the eldest princess of the Amarna period a Hermione-esque magician and turned the Aten into an evil god. I relied on my understanding of ancient history to craft bad guys, all of which would scare the pants off your average ancient Egyptian (well, if they wore pants, which they didn’t).
The solutions Jagger and crew turn to combine ancient magic and/or artifacts with modern technology and/or knowledge in weird and fantastical ways. (Who knew you could scare off killer crododiles with gum and a magic spell?) In other words, my second stab focused on the fun, the unexpected and the adventurous.
Since book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, came out in May, I’ve been busy with school visits and finding ways to share my passion for the past with educators and middle school ages readers. Writing an Educator’s guide was fun, but working up an escape room style classroom activity and scavenger hunt was even better!
If I’m honest, I’m hoping kids will enjoy Jagger’s adventure so much they won’t even notice all the history they’re picking up on the way. And, I hope there are kids out there who will see themselves in Jagger and his precocious little sister, Aria, and realize that they, like my protagonists, can accomplish amazing things, even when it all feels impossible.