- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (April 3, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802737455
- ISBN-13: 978-0802737458
- Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.9 x 10.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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They Lost Their Heads!: What Happened to Washington's Teeth, Einstein's Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts Hardcover – April 3, 2018
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From the Publisher
An Interview with Carlyn Beccia
1. Tell us about what inspired you to write a book about famous people’s body parts.
It was van Gogh’s ear that got me hooked. When most people think of van Gogh, they think of the ear incident, and there are many clues as to why his ear was lopped off and who might have actually done it. But everything I thought I knew about van Gogh turned out not to be the whole story. It got me thinking – what other histories can be rewritten by examining body parts?
2. Why do you think we have such a morbid fascination with famous people’s body parts?
So many reasons! For example, there are forensic motives for studying them, as was the case with Einstein’s brain and Beethoven’s hair—secrets about how these people lived and died have been unlocked from studying their bits.
Then, of course, everyone can relate to 'parts' on a psychological level because we are all, someday, going to die. Many of us have an idea what we want done with our body, but what if that plan goes awry? George Washington left specific instructions to prevent anyone burying him alive (because it did happen sometimes!) Now, we worry about the implications of cloning and stem cell research. What will happen to our remains is a fear we all share.
There is also something more sentimental beneath the surface of 'parts'. I chose, in this book, to go out of chronological order and end with Thomas Edison’s last breath, which is saved in a test tube, because I think it speaks to why we worship things left by someone we have lost; there is something sacred or even magical about saving a body part. It is similar to relics collected from saints. We want to believe a person’s essence is still trapped in their remains. Maybe it is. Edison certainly believed we would someday talk to the dead.
3. What do you hope kids will take away from this book?
I hope readers of all ages get a few laughs at the ridiculousness of some of these stories, and of course, they must read it during lunch. (Thus, all the food references.) And I hope it intrigues them to dive deeper into DNA science, organ donation, decomposition, and cloning.
But I also think these stories will inspire readers to find a special way to remember those they have loved and lost. Maybe it won’t be hair jewelry, death masks, death portraits, or chandeliers made from bones, but how we choose to honor the dead is a sacred choice and always a deeply personal one. By demystifying death, we strip away some of the fear surrounding it.
From School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—These tales of the bizarre and ghoulish "afterlives" of body parts include Galileo's fingers, George Washington's teeth, Lincoln's much-moved body, and other fleshly bits and pieces from actors, musicians, and artists. The book has 17 six-page chapters about wandering body parts, each concluding with a "Where are they now?" sidebar that provides their current locations. Chapters are followed by sections that offer information about related topics such as historical burial traditions and practices, the value of bodies for research, and advances in forensic and pathological science. This topic is one that has perpetual appeal to middle school readers, but the writing and presentation are flawed. Beccia is overly flippant: "The human teeth were sometimes George's own teeth or sometimes teeth he bought from his slaves. I know…pretty gross." Also, her attempts at humor frequently fall flat. The overuse of footnotes, which are a strange mix of additional information and jokes or asides where the author interjects information about herself or her opinions ("Well, duh") or her willingness to "totally" wear Nefertiti's headdress, will likely distract readers. Illustrations are simplistic black-and-white cartoons, many intended to be comical. This book is not as well written or compelling as Georgia Bragg's How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. VERDICT An additional choice where gross-out books are very popular.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO
"Frequent black-and-white spot art and snarky footnote asides add comedy to this already high-interest blend of history and science. Entertaining and fascinating, with a clever incorporation of STEM topics." - starred review, Booklist
"Beccia's light, cheeky approach to the subject matter is tailor-made for a middle-grade audience . . . Readers fond of the gruesome and grotesque with a heavy dose of humor will find much to enjoy here." - Kirkus Reviews
"[A] quirky, clever compendium. . . . The author’s chatty, irreverent narrative profiles each highlighted luminary and offers supplementary info on such topics as embalming, phrenology, and cryonics―and ample doses of downright creepy, kid-pleasing trivia." - Publishers Weekly
"This topic is one that has perpetual appeal to middle school readers." - School Library Journal
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This is a big book (about 275 pages) but the stories are short so you can read a chosen one or two at bedtime. Highly recommended!
The author definitely seems like she’d be fun to grab a drink with...
The book is also liberally sprinkled with footnotes that either add additional detail, direct the reader to search google for more information, or are complete asides by the author. The book is also heavily illustrated by the author. I read the ARC but assume that the finished drawing will still be in black and white and rather cartoonish. They do add some interesting detail to the stories. The book also has an extensive bibliography for readers who want more information about any of the people and topics in the book.
Middle grade fans with a rather gruesome sense of humor will particularly enjoy these entertaining bits of trivia.