Monday, March 12, 2018

They lost their heads! Washington’s teeth, Einstein’s brain, and other famous body parts by Carlyn Beccia

I was super excited when I saw Beccia was doing another wacky foray into history and this book fully met and exceeded my expectations. Also, my colleagues will think twice about asking me what I’m reading during lunch in the future. Mwa ha ha ha.

Beccia focuses on seventeen stories of famous remains, how they came to be saved, and where they are now. Between these sections, she includes lots of ghoulish science and history about vampires, zombies, organ transplants, clones, and more. The main stories range from the legendary (Ines de Castro) to the conspiratorial (John Wilkes Booth) as well as the scientific (Thomas Alva Edison). Readers will learn about how bodies decompose, exactly how many medieval medicines contained human body parts, and the perambulations and final fates and many famous heads, skulls, legs, fingers, hearts, and more!

Want to know the scientific truth behind vampires? The real story of George Washington’s teeth? Whether it’s really possible to clone Elvis from his wart? You’ll find all the answers here.

Told with humor and plenty of ghoulish delight in the stories of rotten flesh and wandering body parts, this is sure to appeal to kids who love weird history and gross-out factors. Humorous footnotes add to the experience. There is a bibliography, source notes, and index (to be included).

I reviewed this from a galley, so I assume the couple typos I saw will be corrected, as well as a couple minor errors (the common mistake of thinking Frankenstein is the name of the monster, for example). I did think there wasn’t a really clear line between some of the legends and actual historical events, but as a jumping off point for further research this is a great start. Plus, it’s an awesome, fun read (as long as you don’t mind a little cannibalism). For the most part, the author sticks with Western history and medicine and, because of the many stereotypes around “primitive” people, cannibalism, and funeral customs, I am actually ok with the chosen scope of this book. Beccia cautiously skirts some of the more inappropriate situations with “you probably know what that means but it’s beyond the scope of this book” type of notes and I think it’s fine for upper elementary and middle school readers. That’s who I’m going to recommend it to, anyways (after all my staff have read it...)

Verdict: I finally have a book for that 5th grade girl who wanted to research cryogenics. Also, this was an awesome read and my colleagues are going to be giving me weird looks for a long time. I love Carlyn Beccia! You MUST have this one in your collection, especially if you serve 5th-6th graders. Really, absolute must.

9780802737458; Published April 2018 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

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