Social Constructs Made Visible
One question I’ve heard a lot since I launched my debut middle grade time-travel series, starting with Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is: Why middle grade? For me, the answer lies in my own middle grade experience, which was inexplicably difficult and formative.
Nothing bad happened to me during my middle grade years. But for many kids, that time of life is difficult even if things are going relatively well. If you’re lucky, you find something positive to help you through. I found sci-fi. I spent weekends in my dingy basement, reading Anne McCaffery and Piers Anthony and Madeleine L’Engle.
Those books took me out of my small world, my small town, and the sameness that surrounded me. They showed me people I’d never get to meet, places I wouldn’t go, and, most importantly, they illuminated how inherited systems shape people in ways they themselves aren’t even aware of—we don’t choose the laws, music, customs, religion and other systems we’re born into, but neither can we escape them. For me, that begged the question many kids start to ponder in middle grade: if that was true for others, wasn’t it also true for me?
More than any other period in my life, middle grade shaped how I see the world. And books, sci-fi in particular, shaped my middle grade years. I suppose that history could have led me straight to writing, but instead, my passion for worlds different than my own led me to ancient history, first Greece and Rome, then Mesopotamia and, finally, my true love, Egypt.
To me, fantasy and ancient history share the same heartbeat. I’ll admit, part of it is that I’m a sucker for goddesses. But a bigger part is that fantasy and history both excel at holding our own worlds up to us like funhouse mirrors. Immersing oneself in environments so removed from the familiar renders your own social constructs visible. That’s a pretty wordy way to say fantasy taught me that there were unlimited ways to be in the world, made me think about how different I would be if I’d been born in another body or time or place. History introduced me to concrete examples of that.
Launching a middle grade series featuring South Side Chicago kids, suspiciously like my own, on an adventure in ancient Egypt feels like the culmination of my bizarre little life trajectory. And now, after a decade spent studying the ancient past, preparing for a job as a college professor—a job I never pursued—I’m spending my time visiting middle grade learners to talk about the ancient world I love so much. And, I’m sharing thoughts on how to make teaching ancient Egypt fun in the classroom by creating and sharing content such as my Jagger Jones themed escape room activity and Educator’s Guide.
In the end, if one kid out there realizes the world is bigger, and history is wider and, dare I say it, less Eurocentric, than they might have assumed, I’ll call it a huge win and award myself with a nice glass of Malbec. Come to think of it, I think I’ll pour that glass either way, because life has also taught me that self-care is key.
Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. She earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one is Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh. Book two, Aria Jones and the Guardian’s Wedja, comes out in August of 2020. Evans lives in Oak Park, IL, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hedgehog. She’s passionate about coffee, travel and visiting classrooms to proselytize about ancient Egypt. You can learn more about her resources for educators or schedule a class or follow Malayna on Twitter.