(a.k.a., How Beetles Make Things Better)
by Amy Butler Greenfield
My next book, RA THE MIGHTY, is a comic mystery set in Ancient Egypt. It stars an unlikely detective duo: Pharaoh’s pampered cat and his scarab beetle sidekick.
A scarab beetle sidekick? The very idea makes most people laugh. It makes me laugh, too. But even as I’m laughing, I know I owe that beetle a big thank-you. Without him, there wouldn’t have been a book at all.
Funnily enough, when the idea for RA THE MIGHTY first came to me, there were no insects in it whatsoever. What I had in mind was an Ancient Egyptian mystery solved by cats.
I love cats, and one of my favorite sculptures of all time is this beauty in the British Museum:
With this, you would think I had all the inspiration I needed. But for some reason, it wasn’t enough. Some essential spark was missing, and I didn’t know what it could be. So I filed the idea away.
Months later, I turned on the radio while cooking and found myself in the middle of a program about beetles. (Yes, really—a radio documentary about beetles. The BBC is a wonderful thing.) As I stirred and listened, a new idea came to me… what if my cat detective had a scarab beetle partner?
I pictured a beetle riding between my cat’s ears, and I knew right then that I was going to write that book.
I had a ball writing about Ra, Pharaoh’s spoiled cat, and Khepri, the earnest scarab beetle. I’ve never laughed so much while working on anything. Their story is very much a mystery, but as I wrote, it became something bigger as well: a tale about friendship.
Months later, I made another visit to the cat in the British Museum, and I realized why my subconscious was just waiting for that beetle to show up. Take a closer look at the cat’s head:
When the marvelous Sarah Horne signed on to illustrate the book, Ra and Khepri gained a whole new dimension. Like me, Sarah headed off to the British Museum for inspiration. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw her cover design (above).
She captured Ra and Khepri perfectly, and her internal illustrations are even funnier. Every time I look at them, I smile.
As I write my next book about Ra and Khepri, here’s what I’ve got on my desk to inspire me—a cat and a scarab, gifts from friends who live in Cairo.