Book review: Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear, by Amber J. Keyser

Keyser, Amber J. Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear. Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner. 2018. $37.32. 94p. ISBN 9781512425314. Ages 12-15. P7Q8

As Keyser writes, “The history of clothing is a history of difference,” and nothing may demonstrate this difference more than undergarments for men and women. Far more than a description of how women’s clothing changed throughout the centuries, it reveals societal expectations of females from the time when they wore no underwear so that men would have control over them through the time that women had highly restrictive undergarments for the same purpose. In the patriarchal societies, they were forced into discomfort and “limited mobility” in the mandates to please males and keep their second-class role. Because of these demands and the desire for oil, over two million whales were killed in two centuries, a culture that shifted when petroleum removed the need for whale oil. Corsets shifted to stays of steel, and women were liberated only when the steel was required for building ships in World War I; eliminating corsets built an entire battleship. Keyser finishes the book with the current expressive fashions of women’s underwear. Plentiful colored illustrations, photographs, and black and white drawings add to the highly accessible text.

Verdict: The feminist perspective of women’s fashion throughout the ages gives a new history for young people about women’s repression and their occasional escape in a fascinating, well-illustrated book. Recommended for all libraries for youth.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Viking. 2018. $19.99. 152p. ISBN 9780-425-28778-1. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Those who live in comfortable settings rarely reflect on the creative minds that give us warmth, technology, and safety plus clean food and water. The chapters in this book following the history of science—Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light—trace these subjects back to prehistoric times to connect the dots of discoveries leading to electricity, health, and other advantages that give security.

Verdict: About the adult version of this book, satirist and writer, Jon Stewart stated, “An unbelievable book … It’s an innovative way to talk about history.” Johnson’s fascinating connections are similar to the twists of mystery plots, and this adaptation for young readers may lead some of them to the original for adults, published in 2016.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up against Tyranny and Injustice, by Veronica Chambers

Chambers, Veronica. Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up against Tyranny and Injustice. Harper. 2018. $16.99. 209p. ISBN 978-0-06-279625-7. Ages 11-15. P6Q9

From Joan of Arc to the 2017 Women’s March, Chambers repeats the message: “never let your inability to do undermine your determination to do something,” as articulated in the Foreword by senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker. Each three- to five-page vignette begins with a full-page black-and-white illustrated bust of the subject and ends with a declarative “Resist Lesson,” for example, Nelson Mandela’s statement, “We do not need to see ourselves as heroes to change the world.”

Verdict: Each piece is brief and accessible enough to invite readers, and some of the diverse individuals from around the world are little-enough known, such as Chiune Sugilhara who saved thousands of Jews through his Japanese foreign service in Germany during World War II, that the book expands the knowledge of all readers. Because the pieces are so short, most of the information is about the person’s resistance instead of life—even birth and death dates are often omitted—and the #resist date is limited to just one year. Yet Resist is a great beginning to an understanding of the human sacrifices to bring human rights to the world.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Unstinky, by Andy Rash

Rash, Andy.  Unstinky.   Arthur A. Levine /Scholastic, 2018.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-439-36880-3. Ages 2-6.     P9/Q9

This book was far and away the most popular one with the toddlers I read to.  The story is about a stink bug (known in scientific circles, I must note, as a shield bug, and illustrated accordingly) named Bud who keeps losing stinking contests because he smells so good.  Appealing to children’s scatological humor, each of Bud’s challenges are illustrated by the various bad things his competitors can smell like, contrasting with is good smells.  Finally, despite his concern that he won’t be accepted, Bud makes friends with a bee who invites him to hang out with the hive.  Soon he finds out that his quality, smelling like flowers, comes to be appreciated by some folks (namely bees).  The story no doubt is encouraging to children who fell like they are misunderstood or don’t fit in, but the joy in the listeners I saw was in recounting things that stink.  I was required to read this book over and over again to a 2 and a 4-year-old.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Family reunion, by Billy Steers

Steers, Billy. Family Reunion.  (Tractor Mac series).  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013.  $5.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30814-8. Ages 3-5.  P7/Q7

Fans of vehicles (Thomas the Tank Engine) and farms will be particularly drawn to this story (one of a long series) about Tractor Mac.  Mac begins to think that his place is with his kind, all the other tractors in the world.  But after he visits a tractor showroom, he finds out that other tractors would like to have his situation, being one of a kind in a family where everyone has a different role, not just hang out with other tractors.  One of the endpapers has a diagram of Iron Dave, the steam engine, with all of its parts labelled, which will no doubt be appreciated by any train aficionados.  A page of stickers of the book’s characters will be popular, no doubt, with owners of the book, but would hopefully go unnoticed in a classroom or library.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Jay Fleck

Stutzman, Jonathan. Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug. Illustrated by Jay Fleck. Chronicle Books, 2019. $15.99. ISBN  978-1-4521-7033-6. Ages 2-6.  P7/Q7

Tiny the Tyrannosaurus Rex is anything but intimidating in this story.  All he wants to do is learn how to give a hug, but he finds his arms are too small to go around anyone to hug them.  Lots of friends want to help, and they recommend practice, getting strong, and planning a strategy.  He works hard, makes some mistakes, but in the end Tiny finds that he can give big hugs even if his arms don’t do the whole job.  Cute illustrations, including the end papers.  Nice story (though not compelling enough for a toddler to demand repeats), teaching a lesson in getting beyond physical limitations.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Bee Calm: The Buzz on Yoga, by Frank J. Sileo, illustrated by Claire Keay

Sileo, Frank J. Bee Calm: The Buzz on Yoga.  Illustrated by Claire Keay.  Magination Press , 2019.  $17.99   ISBN 9781433829574. Ages 4-8.  P7/Q7

Using rhyming couplets, this book introduces the concept of yoga and a few of the poses.   Bentley Bee flies high and spots a number of different animals twisting their bodies into odd positions.  He finds out that they are yoga poses.  The illustrations are sweet and relateable, but they are sometimes hard to make into a yoga pose that anyone would recognize.  Perhaps that’s for the best, as it requires that someone in the room demonstrate the pose, engaging the child listener.   Reading it to a 4-year-old who had been doing some yoga with her mother recently, she eagerly showed me how to do each of the poses.  She said she liked the book, but she didn’t have much to say about it.  The end of the book has ideas for how to use it in introducing yoga to children.  The poses are simple enough that preschoolers can enjoy doing them, and at preschool or at home it should be helpful in getting into the practice.  The book is published by the American Psychological Association in support of children’s emotional health.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.