I didn’t celebrate Halloween as a child, and I’m pretty leery of letting ‘scary stuff’ in our home, but we do help our boys pick out costumes and attend kid-friendly Halloween events. When one of my younger sons came to me saying he was scared of the dark because of mummies, I was perplexed.
We had a conversation, and I tried to be comforting while explaining that mummies are real, but they don’t come back to life or hurt people; they are an interesting part of science and history. In the back of my mind, I realized I could be making things worse instead of better.
He went onto sleep with no problems, and I put all the children’s books about mummies on hold at our library. When they came in, I previewed all of them, putting one in the return pile before anyone ever saw it. I took a day or two to think about whether I really believed it would help him to further discuss mummies, or if I should just let sleeping dogs lie.
These are not books that are appropriate for all children, and I don’t think they should be given to any children without accompanying adult supervision and conversation. Once again, I seriously contemplated whether I was doing the right thing or not, but I forged ahead.
I was surprised at what I learned–when I hear the word mummy, I think of Egyptian pharaohs, but there are mummies from all over the world, and they were preserved in a variety of ways. Some of the mummies’ skin is preserved so well you can see intricate tattoos of tribal or cultural designs.
My son looked at some of the pictures, and said, “Gross!”, but I could tell it was a ‘gross’ that actually delights little boys, and not something that would keep him up at night.
There are lots of photos of artifacts that were buried with the mummies, and some mummies have clothing and/or hair still intact. National Geographic shows what they believe some mummies looked like when they were alive by creating a model from studying CT scans and X-rays of a mummy’s skull.
Scientists can tell a lot from a mummy–age and gender, what the person ate before they died, what kind of activities the person did daily, and often, how they died.
Mummies come from literally every corner of the globe–bog mummies from northern Europe, bundled mummies from Peru, mummies kept in Italian catacombs, the popular Egyptian kings, dried mummies from China, and even modern day mummies.
Vladimir Lenin and Evita Peron are both individuals who have been mummified in more recent years. Their bodies look like wax figures, appearing as thought they are sleeping, and have been or are on display for the public to view.
Our study of mummies has been a positive experience, but again I want to emphasize that there are some very unpleasant issues covered by these books. Some of the people died a violent death before being mummified, and some of the Inca mummies were child sacrifices. All of the mummies are in various states of decay, and while none of them are gory, some of the pictures are startling.
Studying different groups of people and cultures from around the world from a historical and scientific approach helped my son overcome his fear of the imaginary. I think introducing topics that could be distressing for children takes common sense from the parent in knowing what is appropriate for each individual child, and lots of conversation between children and adults.