How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland, for Nonfiction Monday

How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland (2010, Blue Apple Books)

I love a picture book that I can leave lying around the house, certain that my ten year old will pick it up and enjoy it! Which happened as planned, and so I was predisposed to like this one. And there's the fact that I'm an archaeologist, and I've worked in museums, and done some conservation work...so this one seemed an obvious choice for me!

Hartland starts with specific question--how did the battered and broken sphinx of the Pharaoh Hatsheput get from a pit in Egypt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Her answer mirrors the story of "This is the house that Jack built," taking the sphinx from its beginning back in 1470 BC, when the Pharaoh ordered it, all the way to the museum.

Along the way we meet the cast of characters who played parts in its life story, starting with the ones that aren't a great surprise--the sculptor, the stepson who destroyed it, and the archaeologist who found it. But then things get really interesting, when we meet all the people who worked in the background -- the representative of the Egyptian Dept. of Antiquities, the art movers, the curator and conservators...and other staff members of the museum that the public seldom get to meet.

As the list of all the people involves grows, Hartland keeps things interesting with her discussion of each one's role in the process. The cumulative list is, by nature, repetitive, but it's spiced up by using different words to describe everyone's role each time the come around (and it seemed to amuse my children). The the illustrations, detailed but with a simple friendliness, help move the sphinx along nicely. And the sphinx's story is a fascinating one, not just for the fateful life of the sphinx itself, but because its journey required so many people bringing their particular areas of expertise to its journey from Egypt.

A perfect book to read to the young child who you think might do well later in life working museum (I liked the nice gender balance--the curators, for instance, are split fifty/fifty), or anyone with an interest in museums and Egyptology (a section with "more history" at the end will add to the book's appeal for this later audience). This is definitely one to read to your child before your first visit to see Antiquities, but it might well be enjoyed lots by any random kid who likes a swinging story with real life people.

The Non-Fiction Monday round-up this week is at Great Kid Books.


  1. I have an Ancient Egypt obsessed kid right now and we are studying ancient civilizations for history in school next year. This looks like a perfect book to add to our collection. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My friend who owns a children's book shop recommended this title to me the last time I was in her store. She suggested I sit down and read it then and there. I did--and LOVED it! And I bought a copy for myself. I think it's a cleverly written nonfiction picture book. I like Hartland's illustrations too.


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