How They Croaked: wickedly gross, awfully interesting

February 1, 2012 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous written by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley; published by Walker Publishing Company, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., New York; 2011.

Any book with a disclaimer disguised as an introduction is going to get the attention of readers.  Introductions that include lines like the following, will hook reluctant readers for sure:

There are nice things to say about everybody, but this book is full of bad news.  There are funny crying parts and disgusting stupid parts and hideous cool parts, but it’s pretty much one train wreck after another.  And who can tear their eyes away from a train wreck? (from page 2 of the introduction)

Ooh, the disclaimer is true.  It’s gasp out loud gross full of oohs, aahs, and icks.  It’s also a compendium of the infamous in a timeline ranging from King Tut to Albert Einstein.  In addition to the historical facts about very specific people and the times in which they lived (and died), the book includes a couple of fact-filled pages after each chapter and a rich library of sources (“Further Reading and Surfing”) at the end.  O’Malley’s black ink illustrations highlight important and obscure information brilliantly.  He has visually set the tone for Bragg’s words.  Black end pages also add to the macabre elements.

I. Love. This. Book.  Who’d’ve thought that a graphically gross book about how some famous folk passed would be so gripping and entertaining?  When I say “graphically gross,” there are some descriptions that are very explicit.  Some of the language is middle school worthy too (lots of bodily function discussion).  I cannot imagine this won’t have appeal to upper elementary and middle school boys in particular.

Why did I pick this up in the first place?  A patron challenged me to help her find nonfiction books that read like fiction.  Her two upper elementary aged children had to read 5 nonfiction books each and she wanted to show them that “nonfiction” does not mean “dry and unpalatable.”  Of course I took her straight to Sy Montgomery/Nic Bishop books and the “Who Was…” series.  I showed her Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship.  But was there more to choose from?  When this macabre book came up in a further search, we were intrigued.  We thumbed through it together.  Then we almost fought over who got to check it out first (okay, my professional ethics kicked in and she won).  Be sure to make good use of this book!

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Entry filed under: Non-fiction or Informational, Starred Review Book (Horn Book, Booklist. School Library Journal, Kirkus or PW). Tags: , , , , , .

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Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

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