Dark humor lives on in ‘How They Croaked’

Kicking the bucket isn’t always a method of getting a pail out of the way.

Expiring doesn’t happen only with library books or magazine subscriptions. When someone goes to meet her maker, she’s not necessarily going to church. Pushing daisies isn’t only for gardeners. And buying the farm doesn’t just mean that someone’s going to be planting crops or taking care of cows.

There are lots and lots of ways to say that someone’s dead and gone, and as you’ll see in the new book “How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous” by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, there are also lots of gruesome ways to bite the dust.

Do you have the guts for guts? If not, Bragg warns readers to put this book down and back away slowly.

“This book is full of bad news,” she writes, and “it’s pretty much one train wreck after another.”

Take, for instance, our old friend Christopher Columbus. After his first voyage to the New World, Chris was something of a hero, but he was also a zero. Zero health, that is, and he spent much of his second trip hanging over the side of the ship. Bragg says that Columbus met his end in May 1506 because of everybody else’s (rear) end.

England’s King Henry VIII was famous for having so many wives, and while it’s true that most of them died nastily, that’s nothing compared to Henry himself.

Henry, as it turned out, was fat. Very, very fat and when he died, it’s been said that his body — eeuuuwww — was too big for its coffin and, well, you can just imagine what happened. Then, adding insult to injury, what was left of Henry lay in an unmarked vault for more than 250 years.

In this book, you’ll read about how Galileo lost a few body parts here and there. You’ll see why, after she was kidnapped, Pocahontas always went to church. You’ll learn a colorful (and yucky) fact about mummies. You’ll be glad you don’t have Marie Antoinette’s hairstylist or George Washington’s doctor. And you’ll see why TV detective shows are stretching the truth when they show all those autopsies.

Does your child think soon-to-be-summertime reading is about as fun as a funeral? You can prove him dead wrong when you give him (or her) this book.

“How They Croaked” is absolutely filled with the kind of shivery, icky-gross things that kids love to read about. Bragg also buries lots of silly humor and fun factlets into each chapter so, although some of the info may be iffy, you know this book isn’t entirely stiff. And, as a final nail in the coffin, O’Malley gives kids some deliciously disturbing drawings to enjoy.

I liked this book for its light, kid-friendly approach to a deadly-serious subject and I think your youngsters will, too. For any 7- to 14-year-old whose attention span turns to worm food when the weather gets warm, “How They Croaked” is a great way to kill boredom dead.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s children’s book reviews appear weekly in View.

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