Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Review: Bury the Dead

Image from
Book Review of 

Bury the Dead: Tombs, Corpses, Mummies, Skeletons, & Rituals, by Christopher Sloan
Foreward by Dr. Bruno Frohlich


This non-fiction book for children and young adults describes different burial practices from past cultures up to today's practices for burying the dead. The burial practices covered include prehistoric burials, mummification in Egypt, golden tombs of the Amazons, the thousands of clay soldiers found in a Chinese emperor's tomb, tombs of the Moche lords of Peru, and a modern look at how we bury the dead in our own societies and how they might affect how people view us in the future. This book will satisfy morbid curiosities about ancient burials as well as teach a little anthropology and archaeology to show what scientists make of these remains and how anthropologists interpret them.
Sloan, C. (2002). Bury the dead. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.

Taking a topic and a book cover that will draw in lots of inquisitive minds, this National Geographic book by Christopher Sloan does a great job of introducing different burial practices throughout history to children and young adults. The language is not dumbed or watered down for children. It defines concepts throughout and provides a glossary at the back for easy reference, but also challenges kids to use their minds. With brilliant photographs of real burial practices, as well as imagined drawings of ancient burial rituals, it gives kids a view of the past, and translating that to how anthropologists study the past through scientific techniques in the present.

For kids who are naturally curious about morbid things like all of the things listed on the cover of this book-- tombs, corpses, mummies, skeletons and rituals, it is an enticing book. It is also easy to use and understand.  Each chapter features a case study of burial practices in a different part of the world. Organized from oldest to the present, day, it analyzes different practices in an unbiased way. In addition, the text isn't overwhelming, as it is broken up by great diagrams and photographs and some side bars.  With the type of research you'd expect from a National Geographic book, readers and parents of readers can see that this book is supplied with expert knowledge from very specific fields. Included are a table of contents, an index, and a bibliography that can aid interested readers with further resources.

Professional Reviews:

"Gr. 5-9. Kids will find it hard to resist picking up a book with words like corpses and skeletons in the title. And this one doesn't disappoint. Sloan, an editor at National Geographic magazine and the author of two previous books for children, does a terrific job of providing an intriguing, reader-friendly text that is not overshadowed by the fabulous color photographs from the National Geographic Society's archives. These pictures do not shirk from their subject: a full-page photo of a Peruvian mummy staring out from his burial cloth, his knees raised to his chest; a close-up of a "bog person" clearly showing, as the caption says, skin turned to leather by acidic conditions in the swamp. There are also many pictures of excavations, artifacts, and burial sites. Along with discussions of how and why people bury their dead are chapters on particular peoples and their traditions. There's material on the Egyptians, of course, but also on the Chinese, the terra-cotta soldiers of the Qin dynasty, and the Russian tombs of the Amazon women who lived between 800 and 100 B.C.E. Sloan had access to experts to vet his book, and it shows. This has the ring of authority and the look of quality."
Cooper, I. (2002, December 1). [Review of the book Bury the dead, by C. Sloan]. Booklist. Retrieved from

"Gr 5-9-An exceptionally handsome book on a macabre topic. The lucid text discusses the why of funeral rites and internment and then presents a vista of burials, beginning with the shadowy reaches of far prehistory through the colorful tombs of ancient Egypt, the golden graves of the Scytho-Siberians, the horde of clay warriors surrounding the tomb of the first Qin emperor, and the caparisoned grave of the Moche Lord of Sip ne Peru. The author closes with an investigation into more modern burial practices and speculates on what they may reflect about our relatively recent cultures, with a note on offending ethnic groups when ancient burial sites are disturbed for research. Formal in tone, the book includes location maps; a time line; colorful diagrams; realistic artwork; and an array of clear, color photos (some may find that the close-ups of mummies, fleshless skulls, and other mortal remains make them queasy). For those who have been fascinated with such dynamic titles as James M. Deem's Bodies from the Bog (Houghton, 1998), Donna M. Jackson's The Bone Detectives (Little, Brown, 1996), and Johan Reinhard's Discovering the Inca Ice Maiden (National Geographic, 1998), this title will prove irresistible."
Manning, P. (2002, October 1). [Review of the book Bury the dead, by C. Sloan]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from  

Other Uses:

Around Halloween, have an educational program at the library for tweens and teens that discusses holidays that celebrate the dead such as All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and Halloween. Discuss what these holidays used to mean. Use this book to introduce different ways that people have buried their dead.

After a short talk about how people bury and celebrate their dead, do a craft project by making Day of the Dead masks. For a food component, introduce them to "Pan de Muertos" (bread in the shape of a skull and crossbones can be lots of fun!), offerings to the dead of "wine" (AKA grape juice) and bread. You could also take them through a "House of Horror" where they would have a blindfold on and be forced to feel brains! (spaghetti), eyeballs! (peeled grapes), ears! (dried apricots), and skin! (fruit roll ups).


1 comment:

  1. As I am Day of the Dead obsessed, this definitely sounds like a book I would love to check out (my cake topper at my wedding was of a skeleton bride and groom). Absolutely spot on about providing inquisitive kids with a great educational look about the dead in other countries and cultures. Loved your program ideas too, wish my public library had done stuff like that when I was younger.

    the redheadedtraveler (