Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“The Hidden Treasure of the Forgotten Pharaoh” is a whimsical contemporary fairy tale

Time travel and treasure hunting are universal wishful fantasies in our contemporary world. Lee Ann Johnston-Thomas has crafted a delightful magical story that combines both in “The Hidden Treasure of the Forgotten Pharaoh,” (Iuniverse, New York, 2008, ISBN 978-0-595-47552-0, $ 11.95).

Fifteen year-old Nikki Weston has travelled to Egypt with his parents, his personal tutor Tiggy, and Ian, a family friend. While his parents are involved in their daily business routines, Nikki, Tiggy, and Ian spend their time exploring Egyptian ruins. One day they stumble upon some ancient hieroglyphics on an old wall. These ancient drawings speak of the hidden treasure of Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Before this female pharaoh died, she had her trusted servant, Hapuseneb, hide her wealth from her successor, Tuthmoses III. The hieroglyphics offer clues as to the whereabouts of the Pharaoh’s treasure and the three adventurers set out to find Hatshepsut’s riches.

One morning, after discovering Dier-el-Basahari, the funeral temple of the Pharaoh, Tiggy has a vision of ancient Egypt. They enter the temple and she has another vision of a young woman who claims to need Tiggy’s help. Suddenly, they are transported back in time to 1458 BC where they meet Princess Merira, the youngest daughter of Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Merira is to wed Tuthmoses III, the successor to her mother’s throne who will steal her mother’s wealth. The Princess needs the help of Tiggy, Nikki, and Ian to save Pharaoh’s Hatshepsut’s riches.

The time-travelers are delighted with the beauty of ancient Egypt. Where there were ruins just a short time ago in their own time, now there is rich, verdant land laden with olive trees and other lush vegetation. Egyptian slaves bring them platters of food and drink and musicians entertain them. Pharaoh Tuthmoses III becomes smitten with Tiggy and decides that he will marry her. Tuthmoses’ evil magi is afraid that if Tiggy marries Tuthmoses she will prevent him from squandering the riches of the lost Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Tiggy, Nikki, and Ian must find their way out of this dangerous ancient Egypt and get back to their own time.

Lee Ann Johnston-Thomas has masterfully composed an enchanting story that will appeal not only to youth between the ages of 9-15, but to the adult members of their families, as well.

Johnston, a sixth grade math and science teacher at Kendall Elementary School, began telling her students a story of ancient Egypt. She would write parts of the story at home at night and read the developing adventures of Tiggy, Nikki, and Ian to her students the next day. In fact, the characters in the book are named after the children in her classes and they even helped Thomas design the cover of the book.

Thomas, currently in her 14th year of teaching, has taught underprivileged children for 13 of her 14 years’ tenure. She plans to return to her disadvantaged students next year.

While Thomas focuses primarily on math and science, she certainly displays an exceptional talent for writing. She initially began this project as a team-teaching leader when challenged by English and writing teachers who complained that their students could not read or write at their grade levels.

“This book motivated the kids to read,” says Thomas. “They are constantly asking for more.”

Thomas has written another book of stories for her school children and plans to write a sequel to The Hidden Treasure of the Forgotten Pharaoh.

The Hidden Treasure of the Forgotten Pharaoh can be ordered from and

Monday, April 6, 2009

‘The Color of Lightning’ is a disappointing read

Despite the fact that it was widely known that Native American Indian tribes often wreaked havoc upon early settlers, in mid-1800’s Texas became a refuge for Americans escaping “the war between armies and also the undeclared war between neighbors.”

If Britt Johnson, a freed slave with a wife and children, had known in 1863 that migrating to north Texas would be worse than enduring the dark clutches of slavery he might have chosen the latter. In her ‘Author’s Notes’
Paulette Jiles (“The Color of Lightning”; Harper Collins; March 31, 2009; ISBN 978-0-06-169044-0; $25.99) notes that Johnson was a real person and is mentioned in several historical accounts of the settling of north Texas as well as several oral histories. Jiles’ latest book, “The Color of Lightningchronicles the life of Johnson and his explosive relationship with the American Indian tribes who populated the area.

Writes Jiles, “This book is a novel, but it’s backbone—Britt’s story—is true. Britt’s story returned to me repeatedly as I read through north Texas histories over the years, and I often wondered why no one had taken it up. And so I did.”

Armed with idealistic illusions and a desire to build his own freight business, Britt, his wife Mary and their three children join a wagon train of twenty migrating Americans—fifteen white and five black Americans. They settle in Elm Creek just west of Ft. Worth; a small colony subject to invasion by harsh environmental elements as well as warring Kiowa and Comanche Indians.
While the colony’s men were away purchasing supplies, Indians swooped down upon the settlement and killed women and children alike before capturing Britt’s wife Mary and two of their children. They brutally murdered one of the couple’s sons. The remainder of the saga focuses upon Britt’s solid determination to re-capture the remaining members of his family from the Indians. When Britt successfully gets Mary and his two children back from the Indians, he is faced with rehabilitating their new alien personas.

Other than conflicts with Indians, there is very little action in this book. Jiles has a brilliant opportunity to thoroughly develop her characters to give them a richness that comes from knowledge but she only offers sketchy descriptions at best. Throughout the entire book Jiles disparages and denigrates the American Indian. About the Native American man she writes, “The men in a state of war from the moment they were born as if there were no other proper human occupation.” The U.S. government rounded up our Native Americans and attempted to hold them in small reservations. They were here before us. Who would expect them to be anything other than angry? They were and are not intrinsically evil people.

Jiles use of incomplete sentences is so pervasive as to make the book annoying. The restrained use of such a technique can serve to make a novel more interesting and more readable. Not so in this case.

A successful poet, Jiles has written two other novels, “Stormy Weather” and “Enemy Women.”