Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Must-Read Mentor Text: Mysteries of the Mummy Kids

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I was inspired to write about the mentor text for this week's Collaboration Cuties' link-up by an article I recently read about Inca mummy kids found frozen high in the Andes. The story of these children is one of many told in Kelly Milner Halls' Mysteries of the Mummy Kids. This book is particularly special to me because before I became a teacher, I worked on it as an editorial assistant at its original publisher, Darby Creek Publishing. My job was to do photo research and secure rights to many of the images used in the book. For days and weeks, I was "wrapped" up in images of mummies from around the world! My students were pretty excited when I shared that I had been a part of this book project, and I think that made it all the more interesting to them.

This nonfiction book focuses on child mummies from throughout history that have been discovered around the world. The book is organized by continent and mummy, which makes it easy to read in small sections. The author begins with an explanation of why she wrote the book, which was inspired by a postcard she received with a photo of a mummy from Mesa Verde National Park. She then explains the natural and man-made processes of mummification.  Despite its subject matter, the author is careful not to sensationalize or exploit the mummies, but rather she thoughtfully and respectfully explains how they came to be in their conditions within historical, cultural, and geographic contexts. The images in the book help young readers to visualize so much about what is being described in the book, from locations to the mummies themselves. The photographs are somber, yet fascinating. The illustrations and diagrams are appealing and easy-to-follow. At the end of the book, the author includes several references for readers to use to learn more, including "Mummy Miscellany," which lists museums around the country where readers can see preserved mummies and a list of suggested titles for further reading; a bibliography; a glossary; and an index. The book is appropriate for upper elementary to middle school students based on the reading level and the content.

When I became a teacher, I was able to use this book in my fifth-grade social studies classes in a number of ways. When studying the Inca Indians, I read aloud the section of the book pertaining to child mummies discovered in the Andes mountains (referred to in the article link in the first paragraph). These children were thought to have been sacrificed to their gods by the Incas. The author describes how these children were chosen, how they lived in preparation for their sacrifice, and how they ultimately passed away and became mummified.

As part of our study of American Indians, students completed a graphic organizer for each Indian group with information about their location & geography; religious beliefs; government; food sources; inventions; and other cultural elements. As I read aloud from Mysteries of the Mummy Kids, I asked students to jot down any information that fit into the categories of their organizers.

Sample graphic organizer used for note-taking about American Indian groups
Based on the facts presented in the book, they were able to add details to many of the categories on their organizers. Through the stories of these children, students were able to get a picture of not only the lives of the chosen children, but also the daily lives of the everyday Inca, including what they ate, their government structure, arts & crafts, and the roles of men and women. It was rewarding and fun to watch students connect what they read about in their traditional textbooks with the information in this trade book. 

In addition to the note-taking practice, I allowed time for students to ask questions, too, in light of such extreme cultural practices. We also discussed how the context of time and culture shaped the perspectives that the Inca children probably had at the time of their sacrifices, and we compared those to what the students, who were about the same age, thought.

The Maiden of Llullaillaco was about 14 years old and was found with
two other children--a 6-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy--on the peak of Mount Llullaillaco in Argentina.
In addition to the mummies of South America, Milner Halls also writes about the well-known mummies of Egypt, as well as those found in Europe, Asia, and North America. All have their own circumstances surrounding their mummification, and each could be discussed at length in terms of their historical, cultural, and geographic contexts. I actually referred to and shared the story of the Caucasian mummies discovered in the Taklamakan Desert along the Silk Road in China during our discussion of European explorers. Of the many different child mummy discoveries, I personally found the stories of the bog mummies from Europe the most interesting.

Many mummies, many mysteries
I did end up reading the entire book to my homeroom class as a read-aloud instead of a traditional novel. I found it a bit challenging because it required more attention and thinking from the students to process what I was reading to them, especially with new vocabulary and the explanation of processes. If the book is read aloud, it's important to spend time showing students images and reading in small sections so that meaningful discussions can be held about the content. 

Detailed diagram of a false cabeza ("head") mummy bundle shows readers what was included in these burial masses.
In addition to the social studies elements of this book (geography, history, and culture), Mysteries of the Mummy Kids also includes a strong science content as well, with scientist interviews and descriptions of the mummification process. This book is also a great choice for reluctant readers with its interesting subject matter, vivid images, and organization into small, but content-rich sections.

I'm a big fan of using cross-curricular trade books to teach social studies, and I highly recommend Mysteries of the Mummy Kids as one of these!


  1. Oh wow! How incredible that you got to be a part of making this book what it is today! That's really neat!

    I bet the kids find this fascinating!! I can only imagine all of the questions they would have and the deep thinking involved with this book!

    This is so great! Thanks for linking up!
    Collaboration Cuties

  2. Thanks so much for hosting the linky! This is a fun book to share. I've got another in mind for a future link up, too!



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