Friday, November 18, 2016

I am the Mummy Heb-Nefert by Eve Bunting; illustrated by David Christiana (1997)

Eve Bunting is one of the most prolific writers for children out there; at 87 she is still publishing books.  Wikipedia says she's published more than 250 books and who I am to argue with Wikipedia?  If you search "Eve Bunting" on Goodreads, you get 248 hits.

What is writing 250 books even like?  I can't even write one. I can barely write a poem a day (I'm up to about a poem every 2-3 days).  You may argue that they are picture books and they are short, but they still have to make sense, have a plot, be about something different, be interesting, be funny or moving, or both.

And they aren't all picture books.  She's written novels for children and teens as well.

Does she remember each and every book?

She's a writer, not an illustrator - but she's worked with everyone who is anyone in the children's illustration world.

She appears to publish around 2-3 books a year.

She churns them out.  Which sounds like shade, but if you think about it - butter is churned out, and who the fuck doesn't like butter?  I think the same thing could easily be said about Eve Bunting.  Only, because she is 87 years old and I don't personally know her, I will say "who the hell doesn't like Eve Bunting."  If you don't like Eve Bunting, you are a mean butthole.

So I haven't read each and every Eve Bunting book, nor do I plan to.

My favorite Eve Bunting book is one I recently rediscovered:  I Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert.  I first discovered this book as a baby librarian, I would imagine around 1999, when it was still fairly new. In a nutshell it is a mummy named Heb-Nefert telling her story from beyond the tomb.  But Bunting's Heb-Nefert uses poetic language to tell her story; essentially this is one long free verse lyric poem.  It's exquisite, especially read aloud.  The imagery is gorgeous; it has a story; and you even learn a few things about mummies along the way.

It's also personally important to me, because it's not just a poem about a mummy.  It's also about change.  Right from the start, Heb-Nefert reminds us that while she may be "black as night / stretched tight / as leather on a drum" she was once "the daughter of a monarch / favored, beautiful / but all things change."

They do indeed.  We are changing each and every second, with every breath we take and exhale.  The world is changing around us too.  Throughout the poem, Bunting, using the voice of Heb-Nefert, reminds us that "these things pass" and, most memorably of all, after 3,000 years "How foolish that they do not see / how all things change / and so will they / Three thousand years from now / they will be dust and bones."

But the mummy lives on.

So poignant.

I liked this book so much that I typed out the words and glued them into a book.  It's that good.

If you haven't yet read it, find a copy and do so.

I Am the Mummy Heb-NefertI Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert by Eve Bunting
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is certainly one of my favorite picture books. I liked it so much the first time I read it almost twenty years ago that I typed out all the words and pasted them in a book of literary mementos. The illustrations are fine, but it's Bunting's words that stand out here. She's written a lovely and poignant lyric poem, that could share a spot with the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning. It's nominally about a mummy, a female ruler 3,000 years ago named Heb-Nefert, and you learn much about her life and death (and intricate preparations of her body after death). But Bunting is also writing about ever present change, and time, and existential knowledge of one's own demise. It's heavy stuff for a picture book, but her poetry is so beautiful that it counters the heaviness.

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