They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington's Teeth,
Einstein's Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts
by Carlyn Beccia
Bloomsbury (April 3, 2018)
Nonfiction * Biography * Historical
Audience: Ages 10-14+
Indiebound | WorldCat
Thank you Carlyn for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and answering a few questions about your new book, THEY LOST THEIR HEADS.
Kid Lit Frenzy: What prompted your interest in history and particularly the middle ages? (Ren Faire? Raucous Royals? I Feel Better? - I see a pattern)
Carlyn Beccia: Yes, there is definitely a pattern there. I obviously have a dark sense of humor so it is probably natural to be drawn to the most ‘nasty, brutish, and short’ time period in history. Studying the pre-modern era really can give you a new appreciation for a hot bath and a bed without fleas.
KLF: Can you share with readers a little bit about your research process for THEY LOST THEIR HEADS, and what is your favorite chapter in the book?
CB: Ah yes, my research process is nasty, brutish and definitely NOT short. I started with a lot of secondary sources for this one to first get a strong sense of who this person was before they croaked. Then I moved on to primary sources – many of the body parts are still in museums and collections. And I always am a big snoop when it comes to letters. For example, I got a really good sense of the turmoil in van Gogh’s life leading up to the ear incident by reading his brother, Theo’s letters.
Favorite chapter - You know that is like choosing between children….or at least, your children’s body parts.
No, seriously, my favorite parts of the book are actually the sidebars. I am a big trivia buff so I really enjoyed uncovering all these interesting factoids about what happened to peoples’ bits.
But my favorite story – l'inconnue de la Seine. I still get freaked out by her image! She looks like she is just about to open her eyes.
For readers who are not familiar with this image….In Paris in the late 1800’s, an unknown girl was fished from the River Seine and taken to the Paris morgue. The pathologist there was so taken with her beauty that he made a death mask of her face. He apparently did just a great job that her death mask was reproduced over and over until it would have been hard to find any European home without it hanging in the drawing room. She became known as l'inconnue de la Seine – the unknown woman from the Seine.
Flash forward to the late 1950s when Austrian doctor Peter Safar was trying to develop the first CPR standards. He needed a doll so others could practice and learn his techniques for saving lives. So, he enlisted the help of toy maker, Asmund Laerdal. Laerdal used the death mask of l'inconnue de la Seine for his model which we know today as Resusci Annie.
So everyone who has ever taken CPR has kissed this unknown girl. I think it is a story that really shows how life and death come full circle. The face of death is now the face of the doll used to save lives. I love creepy parallels!
KLF: This is the kind of book that is easy to book talk. Kids love these kind of fascinating facts. I was wondering what are a few of your favorite questions from children?
CB: Thanks! Whenever I do school visits, I always insist that I sit down to lunch with the kids
because I think you get far more intimate questions in a smaller group. One question that I have been asked a few times is if my own children inspire some of the themes in my books. I always feel the kids who ask these questions are the empaths of the world. They are not asking questions about personal rewards (every author gets the how much money you make question) but instead are trying to see the author through the lens of their relationships with others. These kids are the old souls of our world because they are understanding their relationships with others will change their path in life.
And to answer that question, I get far too many ideas from my 8 and 10-year old and I vet every chapter off of them before sending to my editor. They really should get paid.
KLF: Can you share about any future projects you are working on?
CB: I get frustrated talking about future projects because It takes me a few years to finish a book because of the research and amount of illustrations. This one took five! I really wish I could work faster.
My next book release is one that I have worked on for the past few years and I am finally finishing up. It is a book about the science behind monsters (title pending). It essentially uses monster lore as a platform for scientific exploration. For example, if a vampire was to try to drain your blood….where should he/she bite? And if you became a zombie, what body parts have the highest caloric content? Should you maybe skip the brains? Or my favorite, if Godzilla did attack, how could one survive the nuclear fallout? This book combines folklore, physics, chemistry, biology and a lot of cutting edge science…..all in many, many infographics. I hated science as a kid so I am determined to make some of the concepts I once found so boring irresistible to readers. I promise
genetics is far more interesting when explored from the werewolf’s perspective….
About the author:
Carlyn Beccia children's book have won numerous awards including the Golden Kite Honor recipient for picture book illustration, the International Reading Association's Children's and Young Adult Book Award and the Cybil Award for Non-fiction picture book. Beccia teaches digital painting throughout the United States and is author of the best selling, Digital Painting for the Complete Beginner. She paints with 'digital oil brushes' to create a unique and deeply textured art. She enjoys giving live demonstrations of how art is created on the computer and encourages kids to experiment with the digital medium.
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