This review originally appeared in SequentialTart.
Publisher: Hougthon Mifflin Company Boston
Author: Louise Hawes
Illustrator: Rebecca Guay
Once upon a time, in most ancient Egypt, there was a born a girl child. She was named Muti, and she was much loved by her parents and her brother. Her father made a necklace for her when she was born, with stones as blue as a dragonfly’s wings and red as a pomegranate. She played Hounds and Jackals with her brother, and washed clothes with her mother in the waters of the Nile. Then, when she was thirteen, Muti went away to work in the palace of the Pharaoh. The great Pharaoh Snefru saw her and commanded that she be brought aboard his royal barge, to lead a company of maidens in sailing it around the lake. Muti complied, and led the maidens with grace and strength. But when her necklace suddenly fell into the lake, Muti refused to move, to lead the maidens. Though Pharaoh raged, she would not move until her necklace was returned to her ….
According to author Hawes’ afterword, Muti’s Necklace is based on a tale found on the Westcar Papyrus, a collection of the oldest known stories in the world. In that original tale, the girl who defied the Pharaoh had no name, and what became of her after she regained her necklace was not revealed. Hawes gave the girl a name, and a family, and a happy ending.
Hawes’ retelling is elegant and simple, almost poetic in places. For instance, in this early scene:
Necklaces don’t grow, but little girls do. As Muti got bigger and taller, her necklace reached only to her chest. When she played Hounds and Jackals with her brother, Ankhu, she would stare at its bright colors while she waited for him to move. “You are slow as honey dripping from the pot,” she told him.
Or, in this later scene:
The magician fumed and fussed. The cobra spat and hissed. But Muti did not move. The magician scolded and scowled. The cobra swayed back and forth. But Muti only stared into the glassy lake.
Hawes’ text is perfectly matched by Guay’s sumptuous artwork. Yes, sumptuous. In Guay’s watercolor and acryla gouache paintings, Muti isn’t just beautiful: she is also proud and strong, her jaw set in determination. Egypt is a land of brilliant colors, gauzy gowns and gentle breezes. And Pharaoh is a man who knows — or thinks he knows — his own power.
Highly recommended to fans of Guay’s other work, such as Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic, as well as fans of ancient Egypt, strong heroines, and great children’s books in general.