cover image Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs

James Rumford. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-97934-1

A tale of heroic perseverance and discovery, Rumford's (The Cloudmakers) picture book biography of Jean-Fran ois Champollion, the early-19th-century amateur scholar who first deciphered hieroglyphs, will fire the imagination. Elegant watercolors offer pivotal views of the determined young Frenchman, from his initial boyhood interest in Egypt through the years of solo study while teaching school in Grenoble, to his meeting with Napoleon, with whom he shared a passion for Egypt (""Napoleon dreamed of glory. Jean-Fran ois dreamed of discovery""), his eventual breakthrough in 1822 and, finally, his expedition up the Nile. As adept with his pen as he is with his watercolor brush, Rumford etches his lucid prose with lyrical descriptions (""The rushing sound of the pharaoh's name, as if carried on wings across the centuries, filled the room""). Occasional hieroglyphs (suggesting ""meet,"" ""sailed,"" ""dog,"" ""celebrated"" and so on) are inserted in the text but are too simplistic to intrigue readers. Much more effectively, the margins are peppered with examples of Egyptian words and their hidden meanings: ""There is a long-necked, far-seeing giraffe in `predict,' "" for instance, and ""There are strongly woven sandals firmly planted on the ground in `never give up.' "" An afterword provides further information, and a chart of a couple dozen hieroglyphic words offers a glimpse of the translation process. Ages 5-9. (Apr.)