The Pharoah's Secret at the Museum of Fine Arts

The Pharoah’s Secret at the Museum of Fine Arts

When I read an action adventure fantasy that has time travel, it’s easy to believe that it’s just a made up story. Sure, Hatshepsut is a real person but she’s from so long ago that she seems like a mythical person. Until I ran into her at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts…

The Pharoah's Secret, Queen Hatshepsut

And so I have a lesson plan around The Pharoah’s Secret in three parts:

  • Part I: Learn about Hatshepsut
  • Part II: Read The Pharoah’s Secret by Marissa Moss for ages 8 and up
  • Part III: Learn about Senenmut

Part I: Learn about Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut in Pharoah's Secret and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Hatshepsut in Pharoah's Secret and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Hatshepsut was given a reign of about twenty-two years by ancient authors, assuming power as early as 1512 BC, or, as late as 1479 BC.


Statue of Hatshepsut on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hatshepsut was one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects throughout both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Arguably, her buildings were grander and more numerous than those of any of her Middle Kingdom predecessors’. Later pharaohs attempted to claim some of her projects as theirs. She employed the great architect Ineni, who also had worked for her father, her husband, and for the royal steward Senemut.

Hatshepsut in Pharoah's Secret and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Following the tradition of most pharaohs, Hatshepsut had monuments constructed at the Temple of Karnak. Another project, Karnak’s Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and originally, may have stood between her two obelisks. It was lined with carved stones that depicted significant events in Hatshepsut’s life.

Colonnaded design of Hatshepsut temple

Colonnaded design of Hatshepsut temple

Following the tradition of many pharaohs, the masterpiece of Hatshepsut’s building projects was a mortuary temple. She built hers in a complex at Deir el-Bahri. It was designed and implemented by Senemut at a site on the West Bank of the Nile River near the entrance to what now is called the Valley of the Kings because of all the pharaohs who later chose to associate their complexes with the grandeur of hers.

Hatshepsut in Pharoah's Secret and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Sarcophagus of Queen Hatshepsut recut for her father, Thutmose I.

Hatshepsut in Pharoah's Secret and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

At the Deir el-Bahari temple, Hatshepsut’s numerous statues were torn down and in many cases, smashed or disfigured before being buried in a pit. At Karnak, there even was an attempt to wall up her obelisks. While it is clear that much of this rewriting of Hatshepsut’s history occurred only during the close of Thutmose III’s reign, it is not clear why it happened, other than the typical pattern of self-promotion that existed among the pharaohs and their administrators, or perhaps saving money by not building new monuments for the burial of Thutmose III and instead, using the grand structures built by Hatshepsut.

Amenhotep II, the son of Thutmose III, who became a co-regent toward the end of his father’s reign, is suspected by some as being the defacer during the end of the reign of a very old pharaoh. He would have had a motive because his position in the royal lineage was not so strong as to assure his elevation to pharaoh.

Part II: Read The Pharoah’s Secret

The Pharoah’s Secret by Marissa Moss

Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III who had ascended to the throne as a child one year earlier. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. from Wikipedia

Talibah and her younger brother Adom are linked to an ancient Egyptian mystery: who and why wanted to wipe out Hatshepsut’s legacy? They visit their ancestral homeland in Egypt with their Egyptogolist father and find out that their deceased mother had a vital role to play for a long dead pharaoh. Now Talibah is called upon to complete her mother’s unfinished task tied to the great female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her high priest Senenmut. But what exactly transpired in the 1450’s B.C.? Talibah and her brother must find out in order to solve the mystery that enshrouds them. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]


Part III: Learn about Senenmut

I found this information below from Wikipedia about Senenmut that readers who have completed The Pharoah’s Secret might want to mull over:

Senenmut was of low commoner birth, born to literate provincial parents, Ramose and Hatnofer (or “Hatnefret”) from Iuny (modern Armant). Senenmut is known to have had 3 brothers—Amenemhet, Minhotep and Pairy—and 2 sisters—Ahhotep and Nofrethor respectively.

Could this be Senenmut of Hatshepsut's reign?

Could this be Senenmut?

Senenmut first enters the historical record on a national level as the “Steward of the God’s Wife” (Hatshepsut) and “Steward of the King’s Daughter” (Neferure). Some Egyptologists place Senenmut’s entry into royal service during the reign of Thutmose I, but it is far more likely that it occurred during either the reign of Thutmose II or while Hatshepsut was still regent and not pharaoh. After Hatshepsut was crowned pharaoh, Senenmut was given more prestigious titles and became high steward of the king.

Could this be Senenmut Hatshepsut's favored high priest and architect?

Senenmut supervised the quarrying, transport, and erection of twin obelisks, at the time the tallest in the world, at the entrance to theTemple of Karnak. One still stands today; the other broke in two and toppled centuries ago. Karnak’s Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and may have originally stood between the two obelisks.

Some Egyptologists have theorized that Senenmut was Hatshepsut’s lover. Facts that are typically cited to support the theory are that Hatshepsut allowed Senenmut to place his name and an image of himself behind one of the main doors in Djeser-Djeseru.

Senenmut claims to be the chief architect of Hatshepsut’s works at Deir el-Bahri.Senenmut’s masterpiece building project was the Mortuary Temple complex of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri.

Although it is not known where he is buried, Senenmut had a chapel and a tomb constructed for him, respectively at (TT71) in the Tombs of the Nobles, and the tomb at (TT353) which contains a famous star ceiling, near the temple at Deir el-Bahri, near Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple. They were both heavily vandalized during the reign of Thutmose III, perhaps during the latter’s campaign to eradicate all trace of Hatshepsut’s memory.

Here’s another great picture book about Hatshepsut:

Hatshepsut of Egypt (The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses) by Shirin Yim Bridges

I really like this series depicted real princesses who defied custom and forged a path of their own. I also like how the illustrations combine both art and artifact to capture the princesses’ life. [picture book, ages 6 and up]


Here’s a great book about pyramids!

Pyramid by David Macaulay

David Macaulay takes us back in time to show us step by step how the great pyramid gets constructed as well as who is involved. With detailed illustrations, this book captures the magnificience and enormnity of building a pyramid fit for a pharoah. Interestingly, the architect depicted, Mahnud Hotep, is also the pharoah’s best friend. [advanced non fiction picture book, ages 9 and up]

How about you? I’m fascinated with The Queen Who Was King. Are there any great books about Hatshepsut that you recommend? Please share! Thank you!

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

The Pharoah's Secret at the Museum of Fine Arts

I am an Amazon affiliate which means if you buy anything through my blog, I get a very small kickback at no cost to you. I use this money to pay the postage and handling for my giveaways.

p.s. Arab American Book Lists for Kids

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18 Wonderful Picture Books about the Arab World

This is my collection of the best picture books I’ve read so far about the Arab world.

27 Books for Kids About the Arab World

Top 10: Middle Eastern American Children’s Books

Middle East Outreach Council Award

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In the wake of the conflicts in the Middle East, I thought it especially important for kids to learn about Islam and the people of the Middle East which might also teach them tolerance in the process. There is so much negative stereotyping during a war that can color a child’s perspective.

Life in Afghanistan for Girls

Deborah Ellis’s Parvana series shows a realistic view of what life is like in Afghanistan for girls today. It’s heartbreaking but also so important.

The Pharoah’s Secret at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

Chapter book The Pharoah’s Secret by Marissa Moss discovered in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Did I find Senenmut, Hatshepsut’s love there?!

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Ann

    Fascinating and scandalous! I will look out for that book and recommend The Pharaoh’s Secret to my daughter.
    Ann recently posted…This Summer Rocks!My Profile

  2. This sounds like a really good book! Hatshepsut is an interesting historical figure. 🙂
    Erik – TKRB recently posted…Perfect Picture Book Friday! Beach House by Deanna CaswellMy Profile

  3. Like the sounds of this book for kids. Great post, Mia.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…The Case of the Missing Carrot CakeMy Profile

  4. I have never heard of Hatshepsut, thanks for a very informative blogpost 🙂

    Hopping over from the kid lit blog hop.
    Catherine recently posted…Paddington by Michael Bond and R. W. AlleyMy Profile

    • Hi Catherine,
      She’s a fascinating historical figure … one of just a handful of female pharoahs but most historians would say the most successful. She landed the throne when her husband died and their son was too young to rule and the intrigue with the commoner soldier-turned-architect is true and also just fun stuff like a soap opera. Senenmut is believed to have fathered the daughter she has and he seems to be murdered by the visier who is jealous of his power. When Hatshepsut’s grandson takes over rule of Egypt, he defaces her monuments to secure his power since his ties are a little weaker.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Bento Box Snacks for Volleyball TournamentsMy Profile

  5. Mia, What a terrific post! Intrigue, mystery and history. My son will love the Pharoah’s Secret.

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