How They Croaked - NF Review

Nonfiction Feature -

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg, Kevin O'Malley
Hardcover, 184 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Walker Childrens (first published 2011)
ISBN 0802798179 (ISBN13: 9780802798176)

The inside flap begins with "Warning: If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book." Is there a better way to lure you in?

Everyone knows a kid or teen who has a dark sense of humor. These are the kids who love to read macabre mysteries or horror. The ones who beg for zombie books or delight in knowing delicious details about historical figures.

Or maybe you have a budding physician on the room? Or a child interested in how we have treated ailments throughout history? I know my own fifth grade students come back from their battlefield trips each year dying to share all the gory details about Revolutionary War medical treatments.

THIS. This is the perfect book for all of those kids. Yes, it is on the gruesome side. Yet it is gruesome told with a wink and a grin. History is so often told as a series of boring dates and events. We forget that these people had real lives, with real problems - and real health disasters. I've never felt so thankful for modern medicine than I did after reading this book. The humorous writing style helps keep the mood from descending completely into darkness, and the author does a fabulous job making us chuckle while we cringe.
     Text Snippets:
"Tut's cadaver gave new meaning to the words "stiff" and "stinky", so it was smeared with scented goo to make it smell better and to make it feel less like Tut jerky" (page 4)

"Caesar was into self-promotion before the concept was even invented. He wrote ten books about his fabulous life and called them history books. And he made his own birthday a holiday" (page 12) 

Each chapter focuses on a different historical hero (or villain). Even the subtitles are completely tongue in cheek, and most made me chuckle and look forward to what I would learn. The two page spreads between each chapter are just as entertaining. They give dark facts and tidbits relevant to the time period, or that tie the historical figure to others in the book. After we hear about King Tut, we learn about mummy eyeballs and paint made from ground up mummy bits. (Ewwww.... cool!) We get information about lead poisoning after Galileo, facts about the guillotine after Marie Antoinette (did you know the last known use of one was in 1977?), and bloodletting dos and don'ts after George Washington. I devoured it all. Don't miss the chart at the end, where Bragg shares many ways the people in the book were interconnected. So fascinating!

For the faint of heart? Nope. Yet I laughed my way through it - when I wasn't wincing in sympathy with the pain and suffering of our forebears. Grab this book for the kids you know will love it. It will hook them into history for life.


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