Nonfiction

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

Jacket-6• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Narrative nonfiction
• Author: Candace Fleming
• Title: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
• Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
• 2014
• 292 pages.
• ISBN: 9780375867828
• Awards: Sibert Honor,YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist
• Author’s website: http://www.candacefleming.com/

 

Book trailer for The Family Romanov

Nicholas the second was born into a role of absolute power. He controlled the fate of a sixth of the world’s landmass, had 130 million subjects and was the richest man in the world.

He was a very ordinary man, lonely as a boy, fond of his family, secure in his right to rule who through his sins and omissions caused streets to run with blood, destroyed a thousand years of tradition and, arguably, caused the death of those he most loved.

Candace Fleming does a brilliant job weaving together private letters, historic documents and first person accounts to make intelligible and riveting the unbelievably tragic history of the fall of the Russian Empire. To her credit Fleming covers much more than the lurid side of the story: the lecherous monk, the massacre of innocent children, the astonishing wealth. She delves into the political and economic reasons behind the revolution and provides cultural context. Page-turning revelations about the depth of the Tsar’s anti-semitism, his catastrophic mismanagement of the war effort and the sweet banality of his domestic arrangements form a riveting and chilling whole. This is an unforgettable tour de force and a superb read for anyone age 12 to adult.

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Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein

Jacket-4• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Horror/Graphic Novel
• Author: Mary Shelley-edited and illustrated by Gris Grimly
• Title: Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein
• Publisher: Balzar + Bray
• 2013
• 208 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0061862977
• Awards: None known.
• Author’s website & blogs: http://www.madcreator.com http://grisgrimlysfrankenstein.blogspot.com/ http://grisgrimly.blogspot.com/

 

 

A philosopher’s stone, an elixir of life, visions of immortality and power: Victor Frankenstein had wildly unrealistic dreams. When studying at University he acquires the tools to penetrate the mysteries of the human body and becomes obsessed. Toiling among the unhallowed damps of the grave he attempts to create a living being: a filthy creation spawned by the charnel house and the dissecting room. His success plunges him into a nightmare of sublime torment and tragedy he struggles to escape.

Gris Grimly’s witty, dark, romantic, illustrations create a gateway into Marry Shelley’s odd tale, which she wrote at eighteen, on a bet, almost two hundred years ago. Grimly has always felt that monster fans are divided into two teams: Team Dracula and Team Frankenstein. Grimly, rebellious and misunderstood has always been on Team Frankenstein.

The ink and watercolor illustrations, in a dour and subtle palette, channel a Gothic sensibility. Grimly’s characteristic style combines both steam-punk and organic monstrosities, resulting in images that are horrifying, humorous and beautiful. His renderings imbue Frankenstein-never a sympathetic character-with a quirky pathos. Grimly has abridged Shelley’s text but preserved her original language. His graphic novel adaptation re-envisions Frankenstein, making it accessible to a new generation.

A graphic novel book group I teach read Grimly’s Frankenstein last year. The illustrations were admired, but it was only this year that the story really seemed to grab them. Several of the boys, now in eighth grade, have read and re-read it and two went so far as to create an excellent book trailer-see above. I continue to be impressed with how excellent illustrations can leverage the power of text, propelling a book from good to great and allowing readers to connect to ideas on multiple levels.

 

Secrets of the Ancient Gods

       Jacket         Jacket-1

  • History related title
  • Age Range: Grades 4th-6th
  • Author: Vicky Alvear Schecter
  • Series Title: Secrets of the Ancient Gods
  • Publisher: Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press 
  • 10/2013 & 9/2014
  • 116 and 128 pages respectively.
  • ISBNs: 978-1-59078-995-7 & 978-1-62091-598-1
  • Awards: Anubis Speaks was a Cybils finalist.

Anubis clearly loves his job; being worshiped and getting to toss still beating hearts to the crocodile-headed Amut the Destroyer, what could be better? In this chatty, behind-the-scenes tour, the jackal-headed god of the underworld guides readers through an epic nightly battle, as Egyptian Gods fight against the forces of darkness and evil to ensure the sun god Ra is reborn: rising anew with the dawn.

Schecter does a remarkable job of making the complicated iconography of Egyptian mythology both clear and memorable, without dumbing-it-down. Convivial, yet menacing, Anubis orients readers with the Egyptian creation myth and then gets down to the really gross stuff. In between the blood, guts and snakes he manages to convey lots of accurate, precise, nuanced and compelling information about Egyptian practices and beliefs, making Anubis Speaks both an excellent curricular resource and a fun recreational read. Cleverly, a caution at the beginning warns of alarming content while simultaneously functioning as a source-note. An index, glossary, guide to Gods and Demons encountered, and an extensive list of sources, establish nonfiction bona fides – making this an auspicious beginning to the new Secrets of the Ancient Gods series.

Schecter follows her excellent Anubis Speaks (BMP, 2013) with a tour of the Greek and Roman underworld designed to creep you out. Long before Voldemort there was an original ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’: Hades. And, if you dare, he is here to take you on a personal tour of his dark realm.  Hades may have a chip on his shoulder about being the least known and worshiped of his brothers: Zeus and Poseidon, but he definitely has the best stories to tell, and as Larson’s pen and ink illustrations show, a personal-style rock stars would die for.

Readers will be both entertained and come away with a smattering of knowledge about the greats of the Greek and Roman world. And to balance out the Plato and Aristotle, who can resist knowing which hero left half his rear-end stuck to the Throne of Forgetfulness? A Guide to Gods and Heroes, an extensive glossary, a thorough bibliography that includes web sources, and an index establish the scholarly bona fides. Sure to please reluctant readers and fans of Percy Jackson.

 

The Tarantula Scientist

Jacket• Grade Range: 5th-10th
• Science related title
• Author: Sy Montgomery, Photographs by Nic Bishop
• Title: The Tarantula Scientist
• Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2004.
• 2004
• 80 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-618-14799-3
Awards: 2005 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book~2004 School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year~2005 Texas Bluebonnet Award~2004 John Burroughs Honor List of Nature Books for Children~2005 National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council~Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children. The book received the further distinction of being noted as a “Selector’s Choice” among these outstanding works for children.~2005 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts~2005 Voice of Youth Advocates Nonfiction Honor List consider the top books of the year.
• Author’s website: http://symontgomery.com

In another excellent offering in the Scientist in the Field series, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop team up and follow arachnologist Sam Marshall into the rainforest of French Guiana to discover more about tarantulas. The largest of spiders, with a life span of over 30 years, the tarantula is a lot less scary and a lot stranger than you might imagine. They smell with their feet, taste with the hairs on their legs and have their stomach in their head. Tarantulas are the dinosaurs of the spider clan and have been around since before the super-continent Gondwanaland broke up.

Sam Marshall’s infectious fascination with these intriguing creatures comes through clearly. As in the others in the series we learn of break-through discoveries he has made and are introduced to two of his young students back at Hiram College in Ohio, doing their own research in the spider-lab. Marshall and Montgomery make clear science isn’t a body of knowledge, it is a process: as simple as asking a question and then answering it and there are plenty of questions to ask. Very little is known about even glamorous species, such as the Goliath birdeater much less the estimated 70-100 thousand spiders science hasn’t even named yet. This is an excellent offering that reveals how close and accessible the frontier of science really is.

Front matter includes a map of the South American area of study. Back matter updates Sam Marshall’s whereabouts, advises how to handle-or better yet avoid handling tarantulas, guides those who think they might want a tarantula as a pet, offers intriguing spider stats, provides a glossary, a selected bibliography and web resources, discusses research methodology and acknowledges help, and provides contact information for the lodge in French Guiana.

Journey Into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures

Jacket-9• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Science related title
• Rebecca L. Johnson
• Title: Journey Into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures
• Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press
• 2011
• 64 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-7613-4148-2
• Awards: Benjamin Franklin Award~Orbis Pictus Award~Junior Library Guild Selection~Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books~Society of School Librarians International Book Award~Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year~VOYA Nonfiction Honor List~National Science Teachers Association Recommended
• Author’s website: http://www.rebeccajohnsonbooks.com

In 2000 scientists from around the world set out on the largest ocean exploration in history: a ten-year quest to systematically learn more about the ocean and everything that lives in it. Johnson takes the reader along on the Census of Marine Life, as scientists explore all areas of the sea and find thousands of remarkable animals never seen before.

Amazing, jaw-dropping photographs grab attention and are backed up by engaging lucid text that describes the science behind the survey and tells some of what was learned. The book is very well designed, with sidebars, boxed inserts, charts and hundreds of photographs breaking up the text into digestible chunks. Johnson writes in the second person so the reader is placed at the center of the exploration: scrunched inside a submersible or helping to sift through the dredged muck for creatures new to science.

The book is divided into chapters based on the area of the ocean explored: abyssal plains, ridges and vents, shallow edges, etc. The chapters open with a clear graphics that place the survey on the globe and show at what depth we are exploring. Johnson provides clear context: we know what questions we are trying to answer and share the excitement as she describes, blow by blow, the thrill of discovery. Quotes from scientists provide insight and contribute to the reader’s sense of being along on the exploration. However, it is the animals that steal the show. Just the names of the new creatures inspire interest: ping pong tree sponge, sea butterfly, zombie worms, bubblegum coral, Dumbo octopus: that can turn inside out, spiral poo worm, Venus flytrap anemone: that excretes bioluminescent slime, Yeti crab, and the barreleye fish: that has a see-through head.

The final chapter reemphasizes the fragility of the sea and the threats against it: pollution, trawling and climate change. Simple steps to help protect the world’s oceans are offered.

Children love knowing things adults don’t, and this book is full of astonishing animals and facts that are new. Not so long ago we assumed light and warmth were necessary for life. That idea is put paid by pink sea slugs, 2000 feet below the surface, eating bacteria that feed on frozen orangesicle-colored methane gas. We now know there are rubbery, un-crushable fish that live in the deepest trenches: nearly seven miles below the surface. In previous centuries it was understood that the ocean was the real frontier. With an estimated 10-50 million more species waiting to be discovered and only five percent of the ocean explored, Johnson encourages us to, once again, recognize that the greatest area for exploration in the universe is in our ocean.

Front Matter: Includes Acknowledgments and Contents. A Foreword establishes the diversity and unexplored nature of the sea. A Prologue introduces us to a massive, meaty jellyfish “wide as a doorway and the color of a bad bruise” and goes on to outline the methodology and objectives of the census. A side bar explains scientific classification.

Back Matter: Thumbnail photos and brief biographies put faces and qualifications to Scientists quoted in the book. A Glossary defines scientific terms and equipment. Source Notes identify quotes. A Selected Bibliography includes a few books and ten websites. A Learn More page offers more annotated websites, books, videos and DVDs for further research. An Index and Photo Acknowledgments conclude the book.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

Jacket-5• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Adventure related title
• Author: Jennifer Armstrong
• Title: Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World
• Publisher: New York, Crown
• 1998
• 134 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-375-40403-1
• Awards: 1999 Orbis Pictus winner ~1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in nonfiction~ALA Best Book for YAs~1999 Riverbank Review Children’s Books of Distinction
• Author’s website: http://www.jennifer-armstrong.com/

In 1914, at the dawn of World War I, Ernest Shackleton was one of the most famous and most famously disappointed explores in the world. He had just missed being the first to reach the South Pole. Three years after that historic event he and twenty-seven men set sail for Antarctica, intent on being the first to cross the continent. An unusually cold Antarctic summer thwarted their hopes and tested their endurance, ingenuity and bravery beyond the bounds of human imagination.

Armstrong frames this remarkable story with appropriate and relevant historic, factual and scientific information. In a few economic paragraphs readers learn structurally why Antarctica is the most hostile place on earth and why it is also one of the most fertile ecosystems in the world. Armstrong incorporates a multitude of quotes, primary documents and stunning archival photographs, painting a vivid picture of a truly astonishing adventure. From the point at which the ice crushes Shackleton’s ship the story becomes extremely gripping. The pace of disasters and escapes surpasses the best of Indiana Jones or the Die Hard franchise and the reader can’t turn the pages fast enough.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World is more suitable to a slightly younger reader than the previously reviewed The Endurance. Armstrong doesn’t rely as heavily on journal entries and summarizes points Alexander makes through multiple examples. Armstrong focuses on the dramatic moments, and there are many, and her writing is slightly more lyrical in her descriptions of wildlife. She doesn’t focus as much on the personal relationships among the crew: avoiding their dislikes, making this book better suited for a reader who wants the facts, the adventure and the hardships without as much in-depth information on the characters. In both books Shackleton’s leadership comes through and the reader is left amazed at what humans can endure and overcome. Particularly intriguing is the moment where the normally cautious Shackleton risks all on a slide down a mountain into the unknown. Using dialogue, Armstrong lets readers watch as the unthinkable becomes the only possible choice.

There are two other topics missing from Armstrong’s book that are included by Alexander: Hurley’s fudged photograph-Saved and the singular unhelpfulness of the British in the final rescue effort. We learn in Alexander’s book that Hurley deliberately removed The James Caird: the boat the six men sailed to South Georgia island in, from an image taken as the men wave good luck to the departing rescuers. On the lecture circuit Hurley and Shackleton represented the doctored photo as capturing the moment the men see a boat returning to rescue them, duplicitously titling the image Saved. Armstrong includes the photo with its misleading title as if it actually did show the rescue. Armstrong also avoids going into detail about Shakleton’s struggles to find a boat and return to his marooned men. In the midst of a war the British were indifferent to their plight and Shackleton had to rely on Chileans and Argentines to effect a rescue. Both omissions simplify the ending.

Front matter: A photograph of the Endurance stuck in the ice is on the title page. A Contents page is followed by a labeled photograph of most of the crew at the outset of the journey. All the members of the team: the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, are listed on the facing page. Two pages of original drawings and plans of the Endurance are included as is a map of Antarctica and a close up map of Shackleton’s journey. Perhaps the best epigram of all time wraps up the front matter: “For scientific discovery, give me Scott. For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Apsley Cherry-Garrand, polar explorer, 1922.

Back Matter: A brief Epilogue mentions that most of the men joined the war after their return and some were killed in action. Shackleton’s time during the war and final journey to South Georgia Island are discussed and his death and burial on the island is briefly described. A verse from one of Shackleton’s favorite school songs ends the Epilogue. Acknowledgements note the most useful materials and assistance in the writing of the book. A bibliography is divided roughly by topic: Antarctica, Shackleton, and Periodicals. An index and brief author biography conclude the book.

The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Jacket-4• Grade Range: high school-adult
• Adventure related title
• Caroline Alexander
• The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
• Publisher: New York, Knopf
• 1998
• 214 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-375-40403-1
• Awards: The ALEX Award
• Author’s website: The author does not appear to have a website.

There is implicit romance and drama in Antarctic exploration and Shackleton’s 1914-17 Expedition may be the most epic of all. Attempting to be the first to cross the continent on foot, their ship, the Endurance, was trapped in the ice. They survived for more than a year marooned on drifting floes, their position impossible and their ordeal only beginning. A desperate bid for rescue involved sailing a 22ft. boat across 850 miles of the most dangerous sea in the world, in winter, in the dark, during a hurricane and then crossing uncharted mountains to reach rescue. Inconceivably they succeeded; their story, accompanied by astonishing, previously unpublished photographs, makes exciting reading.

Alexander writes in clear, elegant, lucid prose. Her admiration for the explorers comes through, but importantly so does a sense of perspective. Too many authors writing on the age of heroic exploration exalt their subjects for their suffering; in her first chapter: on the heroic age, Alexander makes clear suffering was often the result of incompetent planning or vainglorious miscalculation. This frankness establishes trust in her perspective and helps frame her account of Shackleton’s exemplary leadership. He was a leader who put his men first.

Much of Alexander’s account is based on journals kept by the crew. This allows for lots of first hand descriptions which Alexander supplements with background information: the reader gets to know the personalities and foibles of the 27 men, dozens of dogs and one cat. Accompanied by hundreds of incredible photographs the pairing of the words and images provide a powerful and intimate sense of both the personalities and the conditions they endured.

The book succeeds both as an amazing and harrowing adventure story and as an account of a remarkable example of leadership. The real triumph was not over the elements, but of a mastery of human character. They did not merely endure, they “exhibited the grace of expertise under ungodly pressure.” “Optimism, “ Shackleton once said, “is true moral courage.” It is this spirit, which animated many of the men, which makes the account far from dour. Faced with an impossible decent and on the verge of freezing to death, the overland rescue team slid down a mountain: “ Then quite suddenly I felt a glow, and knew that I was grinning! I was actually enjoying it…I yelled with excitement and found Shackleton and Crean were yelling too.” Stuck subsisting under two overturned dories, the men marooned on Elephant Island continued to joke, spin yarns and grew most tired, not of the privation, but of the necessity of killing every animal that landed on their barren island.

Alexander makes the compelling case that Shackleton’s greatness lay in his “conviction that quite ordinary individuals were capable of heroic feats if the circumstances required; the weak and the strong could and must survive together.” During his lifetime his fame was eclipsed by that of the more tragic explorer Scott, but Shackleton’s fame has grown and endured. In her final chapter Alexander tells the fates of many of the expedition, some who didn’t survive the Great War and some who lived to see a man walk on the moon.

Front matter: includes several photographs of the crew and their ship, a dedication to, and photo of, the ship’s mascot: the cat Mrs. Chippy, a photo of the rescue and a map of the journey. Back matter includes several pages of very informative acknowledgments that indicate the depth and scope of Alexander’s research while annotating many of the primary sources, many of which are unpublished. A paragraph describes sources and offers an annotated and selected bibliography for further reading. A note on photographs goes into detail about the processing of and history of the images. An image of the photographer, Hurley, filming from the mast, a brief note about the author and a note on the type conclude the book. There are no contents and no index, which make finding specific passages and images difficult.

This book was published in association with the American Museum of Natural History and its 1999 exhibit, curated by Alexander, which chronicled Shackleton’s voyage.

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842

Jacket-6• Grade Range: upper high school-adult
• Adventure related title
• Nathanial Philbrick
• Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842
• Publisher: New York, Viking
• 2003
• 452 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-67003-231-0
• Awards: Richie’s Picks
• Author’s website: http://nathanielphilbrick.com/

In 1838 a squadron of six sailing vessels set out for a four-year journey of exploration. The U.S. Exploring Expedition (Ex. Ex.) was one of the largest voyages of discovery ever undertaken. Led by Captain Wilkes, the Ex.Ex. redrew the map of the world; the 40 tons of specimens they brought back formed the foundation of the Smithsonian museum. Philbreck answers the question: ‘why have we never heard of Wilkes or the Ex. Ex?’

The story of the Ex.Ex. is filled with adventure and drama. There are many memorable moments: a snowball fight with Tierra del Fuego’s Yahgan natives: who apparently had flaps of skin that hung over their knees, some brutal encounters with Fijian cannibals: including eyeball munching, and an insanely close encounter with an active volcano. The expedition was charged with surveying Antarctica and determining if it were a continent. They were the first Americans to chart Puget Sound, the Columbia River and San Francisco Bay, establishing the United States basis for claiming those territories. The origin of the theory of plate tectonics stands out among the many scientific discoveries the expedition advanced.

Yet, as Philbrick maintains, the Ex. Ex. is fascinating not because of its successes, but because of what went wrong. Despite the expedition’s scientific discoveries and astonishing adventures, it came to be viewed as a colossal embarrassment. Captain Wilkes was insecure and egotistical with a talent for creating discord and conflict; his morbid hunger for recognition ensured his expedition ended not in glory, but in an ugly court-martial. Wilkes was universally despised by his officers and it is even alleged that Melville based Captain Ahab on him.

Melville and Shakespeare represent that personal flaws are inextricably connected to qualities of greatness; they are not just intertwined: they are one and the same. In exhaustive detail, Philbrick examines whether Wilkes successes can be divorced from his failures. Relying extensively on primary sources, including sailors’ journals, Philbrick recreates the expedition in all its drama and drudgery. Political infighting and petty squabbles sap the energy of the men. This is a fascinating study but, at over 300 pages of text, one few teenagers are likely to have the stamina to wade through. Like the member’s of the expedition: the reader’s eagerness to journey on is worn down by hundreds of Wilkes’s awful decisions and unnecessary cruelties. That said, for those who love true tales of maritime disaster and have an interest in exploration and leadership, it is a memorable and intriguing story.

Sea of Glory also acts as a fascinating counterpoint to Earnest Shackleton’s Antarctic journey seventy years later. Shackleton attempted to cross the continent Wilkes was the first to chart. Where Wilkes’ expedition succeed in its goals, lost scores of men and ended with the Captain despised and forgotten, Shackleton’s journey achieved opposite ends: he failed in his task, but due to determinedly optimistic and solicitous leadership, returned with his entire crew and is well-remembered a hundred years later.

Front matter: includes a Table of Contents, a brief author biography, and an extensive preface. Opening with Wilkes’ court-martial the preface establishes the context of the U.S. Ex.Ex. and raises the issues of leadership Philbrick addresses in the book. A modern rendering of the six ships of the Ex. Ex. Concludes the preface. Back matter: An extensive epilogue briefly explores the legacy of the discoveries of the Ex. Ex.: charts of islands in use through the second World War, the establishment of Antarctica as a continent, etc. The epilogue also discusses why Wilkes accomplishments were so quick to be forgotten, dismisses the idea that a cooler more capable Captain would have achieved more and lays the responsibility for the expeditions obscurity on Wilkes inability to partner with Reynolds, a talented officer Wilkes had severely alienated during the voyage. A notes section includes abbreviations for frequently consulted texts, several paragraphs outlining and annotating additional reading, followed by chapter by chapter acknowledgements and notes that discuss the origins of ideas and quotes. An extensive selected bibliography lists unpublished sources first, followed by published sources and dissertations and ending with a list of publications of the United States Exploring Expedition. The notes and suggestions for further reading are extremely impressive and let the reader understand the origins of information and argument. Acknowledgements thank experts and those who aided in the production of the book. An index completes the volume.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

Jacket-8• Grade Range: 5th-9th
• History related title
• Georgia Bragg, Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
• How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
• Publisher: New York, Walker & Co.
• 2011
• 184 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-8027-9817-6
• Awards: North Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee~Cybils Award (Non-Fiction)~ALA Notable Children’s Book (ALA)~IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice~Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee~Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA)~Texas Lone Star Reading List~Truman Readers Award Nominee~Volunteer State Book Award Nominee~Garden State Book Award Nominee (Teen)
• Author’s website: http://georgiabragg.com/

Georgia Bragg lays out the big ugly sad mess of death and how it did in 19 famous individuals. Her chatty and irreverent style is matched by Kevin O’Malley’s macabre cartoons.

Too often history for children omits the nasty bits. Bragg has single handedly righted that wrong: compiling all the grossest facts about the most gruesome ends of notable individuals from Pocahontas to Albert Einstein. As she forthrightly points out in her introduction: this is not a book for the squeamish. Even if you think you know how gruesome medicine was in the past, nothing could prepare you for the terrible ends of Beethoven or James Garfield: stomach drill or egg and whisky enema, anyone? And as King Tut, Napoleon and Albert Einstein’s corpses could tell you: even if the doctors don’t get you, the souvenir hunters will.

Bragg’s tone is often flippant: Darwin was “a few cards short of a full deck.” Her ‘take no prisoners’ style keeps the narrative rollicking along, as she blithely piles lurid fact on top of ghastly detail. Each chapter gives the circumstances of death and provides context for the historical period. Between each chapter is a two-page spread of facts tangentially related to the previous subject. Among myriad memorable items we learn a few priceless things Pocahontas noticed about King James I and the definition of Napoleon complex.

While the immediate effect of all this information may be to send you speeding to the bathroom to wash your hands, ultimately the account will impress you with both human fortitude and the endless remarkable stories history contains. Bragg’s enthusiasm is infectious and reader’s will be hard pressed not to share gruesome anecdotes and fun facts. However, as Bragg points out: “the people in this book didn’t become famous because of how they croaked but because of how they lived.” Not only does How They Croaked make an excellent elective read, it would be a fabulous way to fire up students before a biography assignment.

Front matter: Contents come complete with humorous and tastelessly named chapters: Marie Curie – You Glow Girl. An Introduction packs a strong warning advising those without ‘guts for gore’ to turn back. Back Matter: ‘One More Thing’ reminds readers of the important lives the famous dead lived and urges readers to emulate them and find something worth devoting your life to, since eventually everybody’s story ends. A diagram notes connections among the historic figures. Acknowledgements thank those who encouraged the author. Extensive bibliographic sources are divided by individual and chapter. Bless her heart-Bragg includes a wonderful annotated selection of further reading and surfing sources for kids, again divided by subject. An index concludes the book.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Jacket-7• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Current events related title
• Sy Montgomery
• Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.
• Publisher: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
• 2012
• 147 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-547-44315-7
• Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K—12: 2013~Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2013~ALSC 2013 Notable Children’s Books, Older Readers;
• Author’s website: http://symontgomery.com/

Autism prevented Temple Grandin from speaking until she was five, isolating her from her peers and family. Autism also allowed her to perceive as animals do: in pictures and with a similar sensitivity to stimulus. Ms. Grandin uses these strengths to advocate for farmed animals and has become a worldwide authority on how to design our food system to treat animals more humanely.

Sy Montgomery interviews Grandin, her friends and family and tells the inspiring story of her life. Lots of photographs, Temple’s drawings and attractive and informal design help to break up the text. Early in Temple’s life few would have predicted she would have a PhD., an international career and be the subject of a biopic starring Claire Danes. Montgomery and Grandin don’t sugarcoat the disruptive behaviors and learning difficulties that Temple struggled with. They chronicle the important breakthroughs: an aunt with a ranch, a kind science teacher, a discovery of a door that became a lifelong metaphor and motivator. Most important Temple learned how to persevere, despite bullies, workplace harassment, and bias. Through her close sympathy with animals she found something worth working for.

The book functions on three levels: as a triumphant role-model biography of a woman with a learning difference, as a story about an animal loving change-maker within the food industry and as a universal tale of the struggle to find one’s place in the world.

Montgomery goes to great lengths to explain autism in concrete terms that children will understand. Sometimes this is very effective: as when she explains why autistic children often twirl or engage in repetitive behavior. On a few occasions her pronouncements come off as overly reductive: “others, whose autism is milder, may be nerdy, geeky kids who grow up to make computers in Silicon Valley.” Like all ‘may’ statements this one could just as easily read ‘may not.’ What compels are the many concrete examples from Grandin’s childhood, which help establish both context and sympathy. Even as an adult Grandin retains a childlike quality that delights, as when she responds to a bullying gross-out tour at a meat packing plant by stomping her feet in the deepest, yuckiest pool of blood: liberally spattering the plant manager. According to Montgomery current data indicates 1 in 100 people are affected by autism. It is also true that an increasingly large number of children’s and YA books feature autistic characters, making this a topic with plenty of currency.

Grandin’s empathy with animals and her practical advocacy on their behalf are very appealing. Many kids, who struggle with social relationships and overwhelming emotions during adolescence, will readily identify with Temple’s assertion that animals saved her. The neatness that she, in turn, now saves them from unnecessary distress, makes sense. And, in a world where most food oriented books for kids emphasize organics and small-scale producers, it is refreshing to read one focused on large-scale applications. Grandin is eminently practical: she makes the case that partnering with huge firms like McDonalds allows her to affect the welfare of billions of food animals in the United States. Rather than being the bad guys, we see how giant corporations can be tremendous forces for reform; more than half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled is systems Grandin designed.

Front matter: A foreword by Temple Grandin speaks directly to kids about her experiences and offers advice and encouragement. Back matter: An appendix offers seven pieces of advice from Temple to kids on the spectrum. A selected bibliography and resources provides books, articles, many websites and even a couple movies used in researched and/or recommended by Temple for kids, teachers and parents. The list, while divided by category, doesn’t indicate the recommended age group, thought titles are often indicative. Acknowledgements, a photo of Temple and her mother, photo credits and an index conclude the book.