Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - How They Croaked: The Awful Ends Of The Awfully Famous

Author:  Georgia Bragg
Illustrator: Kevin O'Malley
Publisher: Bloomsbury Walker (March 15, 2011)
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
Source: Copy for Review
Non-Fiction * Middle Grade * History

Description from GoodReads:
Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. For example:

It is believed that Henry VIII's remains exploded within his coffin while lying in state.
Doctors "treated" George Washington by draining almost 80 ounces of blood before he finally kicked the bucket.
Right before Beethoven wrote his last notes, doctors drilled a hole in his stomach without any pain medication.
Readers will be interested well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911.

From the title of the book to the cover of the book to the actual content of the book, Bragg has a winner on her hands.  It is fun finding non-fiction that is written in an interesting, easily readable manner.  Each chapter centers on one of nineteen different famous people (many whom are related or connected in some manner) and is followed by two pages of historical facts related to that particular famous person or his/her manner of death. 

How They Croaked is fun in that gross sort of way.  The reader is treated to many of the gory details of how crude medical treatments of the time likely contributed more to the deaths of these famous individuals than possibly the actual diseases.  In a few cases, the causes of their deaths were related to the careers they were consumed by.  For example, I never really thought about how Marie Curie's research would contribute to her death which was caused basically by prolonged exposure to radiation.  

Bragg doesn't hold back with her descriptions but at the same time the tidbits about the lives, loves, relationships and quirky habits of each of these historical figures are woven into each chapter.  Never, in some ways, has history been so fun.  Catchy chapter titles, modern vernacular, and just the right amount of witty humor make each chapter a quick read.  The book can be read in order (which is also chronologically ordered) or can be read by picking and choosing your favorites.  I did a little of both.  However, I will say, the connections between some of the individuals are more evident when reading it in order.  Also, How They Croaked can be read in one sitting or a couple of chapters at a time, but once I got started I had trouble putting it down.

Parents, teachers, librarians looking to entice that elusive male reader may want to suggest that they give this one a read.  And though the book may be listed as being for 5th to 8th graders, I would suggest that this is one book that will be just as likely read by a 5th grader as an adult.  How They Croaked is definitely a book to add to a school library.  My guess is once it is book talked, it won't stay on the shelves for long. 

For more information about Georgia Bragg, check out her website:
Here is the link to an interview that NPR did on How , click here to check it out.

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.