How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: If “ewww gross” is your idea of high praise then How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous (Walker, March 2011) is the book for you! The opening pages issue this warning:
If You Don’t Have the Guts for Gore,
Do Not Read This Book
I’d advise the squeamish among us to heed this warning. Whether it is descriptions of Henry VIII’s 320 pound corpse that smelled like a rotten egg and exploded in his coffin or the revolting details of the horrifying “cures” inflicted on poor George Washington, this book definitely requires a strong stomach. Bragg gives us fascinating irreverent biographies of 19 famous people with a focus on their medical conditions and exactly how they died. Absolutely packed with “listen to this” moments this entertaining book is guaranteed to be a huge hit with young readers who will gleefully read large portions out loud to each other. There’s a lot of great history here too- it’s not just grizzly gore. Students are sure to finish the book realizing that in the past the “treatments” were often worse than the original illness and probably hastened countless deaths. They’ll learn a lot about some pretty amazing people who followed their dreams with great determination. For the curious who want to learn more, Bragg has provided a terrific bibliography. I love the killer cover too!
Cindy: Oh, is this my kind of book! I can’t wait to booktalk it to my middle school students along with my earlier favorite Guinea Pig Scientists (Holt 2005). The irreverent tone is perfect:
Elizabeth’s older stepsister, Mary, was queen before her. Her nickname was “Bloody Mary.” They didn’t have family barbeques, but Mary did enjoy burning Protestants at the stake. Luckily for everybody, Mary died and Elizabeth became the queen of England.
Naturally, the settlers wanted their guns back. So they kidnapped Pocahontas and held her for ransom. She was seventeen years old. But Chief Powhatan didn’t trade arms for hostages. So instead, the settlers took her to another colony fifty miles away to be “civilized.” They taught her English and told her about important things like Christmas and guilt. She was trapped. You can bet they never taught her how to say “I want to go home now.”
The doctors did an autopsy (on Napoleon). The chest was opened. Quelle surprise! There was a heart.
Young readers will need to do some additional research to fill in some of the holes or to satisfy their curiosity of events hinted at in these short chapters, but Bragg will have created the desire to learn more and as Lynn mentioned, the bibliography is terrific. The treatments that these folks endured (especially considering that many of these folks were well-to-do with the best available care at the ready) were horrific. I couldn’t resist reading aloud passages to my husband, and teachers will find this an engaging and informative read aloud as well. And really, how did I not KNOW that the Caesarean Section (c-section birth) was named after Julius Caesar, whose mother endured the first one?