Bragg, Georgia. 2011. HOW THEY CROAKED: THE AWFUL ENDS OF THE AWFULLY FAMOUS. Ill. by Kevin O’Malley. New York: Walker. ISBN 9780802798176 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-12]
Highlighting the deaths of nineteen famous people, this fun and informative book achieves just the right mix of morbidity and humor. The cartoon portraits of each subject and the frank treatment of facts surrounding their deaths will appeal to general readers, not just history buffs. Some chapters detail the dying process—for example, Napoleon’s undiagnosed stomach cancer was treated with chemicals that he ingested causing massive diarrhea and vomiting. Other chapters emphasize post-death trivia– a rogue pathologist secretly removed Einstein’s brain and kept it in a jar in his basement for years. Yet, much information is drolly provided about the life of each subject, both their accomplishments and failures.
A final chapter emphasizes that these individuals became icons because of their hard work and devotion to their goals. They provide examples for young people of individuals who make the most of their lives, while realizing that no one escapes the ultimate end.
Discuss how many of the causes of death listed in the book could be avoided. Identify medical advancements or societal changes that would result in different outcomes today. Invite teens to watch the TV series, “1000 Ways to Die.” Collect some of the causes of death to use in creative writing exercises.
Other fun and intriguing collective biographies for young adults:
Jacob, Matthew & Mark Jacob. WHAT THE GREAT ATE: A CURIOUS HISTORY OF FOOD AND FAME. ISBN 9780307461957.
Pouy, Jean-Bernard, Serge Bloch, & Anne Blanchard. THE BIG BOOK OF DUMMIES, REBELS, AND OTHER GENIUSES. ISBN 9780592701032
Welden, Amelie. WITH A BANJO GIRLS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD: HEROINES FROM SACAGAWEA TO SHERYL SWOOPES. ISBN 1885223684.
Various authors, WICKED HISTORY series.
By Rebecca S. McKee