Readers will be entertained and fascinated by the flawed humanity depicted within.



Bragg’s follow-up to How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous (2011) reveals the failures of 14 notables from history.

Bragg’s cheeky humor is on display with chapter titles like “Till Beheading Do Us Part” for Anne Boleyn, “The Law’s in Town” for Isaac Newton, and “Stinker, Traitor, Soldier, Spy” for Benedict Arnold. She describes Gen. Custer as “a peacock with a pistol” and reveals that Ferdinand Magellan, credited as the first man to sail around the world, actually only made it halfway. Queen Isabella of Spain is remembered for financing Columbus’ expeditions, but she also started the Spanish Inquisition. J. Bruce Ismay commissioned the “unsinkable” Titanic but then jumped to the front of the women-and-children lifeboat line to save his own skin when an iceberg proved the ship sinkable. Beneath Bragg’s flippant tone is an insightful, informative narrative explaining how these individuals earned a place in history, including both their accomplishments and embarrassing and sometimes-tragic failures. Between each chapter is a page or two of information related to the work of those profiled and their times. O’Malley’s cartoon illustrations are a great complement to Bragg’s informal, conversational style. Meaty backmatter includes seven pages of audience-appropriate suggestions for further reading and surfing, keyed by fail-er.

Readers will be entertained and fascinated by the flawed humanity depicted within. (notes, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8027-3488-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.


From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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From the Giants of Science series

Hot on the heels of the well-received Leonardo da Vinci (2005) comes another agreeably chatty entry in the Giants of Science series. Here the pioneering physicist is revealed as undeniably brilliant, but also cantankerous, mean-spirited, paranoid and possibly depressive. Newton’s youth and annus mirabilis receive respectful treatment, the solitude enforced by family estrangement and then the plague seen as critical to the development of his thoughtful, methodical approach. His subsequent squabbles with the rest of the scientific community—he refrained from publishing one treatise until his rival was dead—further support the image of Newton as a scientific lone wolf. Krull’s colloquial treatment sketches Newton’s advances in clearly understandable terms without bogging the text down with detailed explanations. A final chapter on “His Impact” places him squarely in the pantheon of great thinkers, arguing that both his insistence on the scientific method and his theories of physics have informed all subsequent scientific thought. A bibliography, web site and index round out the volume; the lack of detail on the use of sources is regrettable in an otherwise solid offering for middle-grade students. (Biography. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-670-05921-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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