Bookworm: ‘Deadly Hearts’ a history adventure for the young reader

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Deadly Hearts: History’s Most Dangerous People” by Michael Burgan

  • c.2022, Penguin Young Readers
  • $14.99, 138 pages

Oh, that’s so mean!

It’s not what was said or done, it was really a lot of both. Words are painful when they’re flung at you in anger or hatred, and they can cut the same as a knife or sword. But actions? Man, those things really hurt. As in the new book, “Deadly Hearts: History’s Most Dangerous People” by Michael Burgan, actions can kill.

When there’s something you want, you probably know how to politely ask for it. If that doesn’t work, then you either use patience or you work hard to get it but throughout history, there have been some leaders and rulers who used pain instead of “please” to achieve their goals. In this book, you’ll read about some of them.

“Deadly Hearts: History’s Most Dangerous People” by Michael Burgan.

Burgan begins with Alexander the Great, who wasn’t so great, actually. He told everyone that he was the son of the god Zeus, when in reality, he was really the son of the King of Macedonia. Either way, it went to Alexander’s head and resulted in a lot of dead soldiers.

The Romans thought that Attila the Hun was an “uneducated” barbarian, but Attila was smart enough to conquer a lot of Roman land and kill a lot of Romans. Burgan writes that yes, the Hun was “ruthless” and cruel and could make people tremble in terror but some folks claimed that if you knew Attila personally, he was really a nice guy.

“Deadly Hearts: History’s Most Dangerous People” by Michael Burgan.

In fifteenth-century Spain, there was a lot of distrust against the Jews by the country’s Catholics. Tomás de Torquemada was chosen to lead the Spanish Inquisition, to find the Jews and get rid of them – and that didn’t mean just showing them the door, either.

Vlad the Impaler got his name for a reason: to inflict the maximum amount of pain on his enemies, he impaled them on large stakes and let them die slowly. Queen Mary I of England had hundreds of Protestants killed, and Elizabeth of Bathory killed a lot of young women for fun. And Ivan the Terrible? Yeah, he was pretty terrible...

Here’s a warning to adults: page through “Deadly Hearts” before giving it to your young reader, and your eyebrows might pop to the top of your head. To say that the beginning of this book is gruesome without warning is to severely underestimate things here.

Remember, though: this book isn’t for you.

It’s for the kid who loves a really great scare and can handle it with zero nightmares. It’s for the young reader whose favorite section of a museum is awash in fake blood, and who absolutely lives for the after-dark version of the haunted house at Halloween. That’s the kid author Michael Burgan writes for, and that’s the one who’ll love what’s inside this book, never mind that its short chapters are full of things that will teach your child about the past and spark interest in learning. For your 8-to-12-year-old monster-lover, the thrill is the gateway, history comes free, and “Deadly Hearts” means a good read.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at