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: Think Like a Scientist at the Beach, by Dana Meachen Rau

Rau, Dana Meachen. Think like a Scientist at the Beach. (Science Explorer Junior series). Cherry Lake Publishing, 2011. 32 pgs. $28.50. ISBN 9781610801683. Ages 6-9. P7Q7

This is part of a series Science Explorer Junior. Each chapter takes a question such as, “Where does the water go?” and guides readers through the scientific process. Ask a question, talk about the science of it, such as evaporation, and create an experiment. Then it asks about the results the young scientist found. I found this to be a simple yet effective way to introduce how scientists attempt to figure things out, and invites us in to participate. The vocabulary also teaches by using scientific language, and the graphics are simple yet colorful. I enjoyed the five beach explorations, and thought it was a welcoming introduction to beaches and the scientific method for this age.

VERDICT: Juvenile readers will be drawn into the subject and method of this book, and I enjoyed the book’s layout.  It would also be good for homeschoolers to create their own beach experiments.

February 2019 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. Scholastic, 2018. $14.99. 310p. ISBN 978-0-545-90248-9. Ages 12+. P8Q9

The creator of the well-known graphic series Lunch Lady uses a graphic narrative to write a painful memoir of his childhood, first living with his drug-addicted mother then with his grandparents. The couple struggles to get along with each other, but they both love him, shielding him from the fact that his mother is frequently in rehab or prison. Kroscozka doesn’t know his biological father’s name is until he needs his birth certificate to go on a ski trip. Although his life has shadows, Kroscozka manages an almost normal life through his drawings and close friendship with a neighbor boy. Energetic ink drawings with shades of gray and orange add to the emotions of the author’s words. An Author’s Note fills in the blanks of his life, and A Note on the Art describes the sources for some of his art.

Verdict: This honest memoir displays self-reliance and survival during a painful childhood that leads to a successful, happy adult life with an understanding of flawed people. An important addition to both graphic narrative and adolescent memoirs.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, by Nadya Okamoto

Okamoto, Nadya. Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. Simon & Schuster. 2018. $19.99. 354p. ISBN 978-1-5344-3021-1. Ages 13+. P7Q9

When Okamoto was 16, she started PERIOD, the largest youth-run, non-profit in women’s health as well as one of the fastest-growing U.S. non-profits. At 20, the author of this book inspires young people with Period Power providing background from scientific information about the process of menstruation and related health concerns to the discrimination against menstruators who cannot afford products during their periods which caused her to found the organization that distributes menstruation products to the homeless, the poor, prisoners, and others who cannot afford them. Okamoto connects her issues to her past when her family, “experiencing housing and financial instability,” lived in Portland (OR). Chapters in her book also track the history of attitudes toward menstruation that was once considered “unclean,” the developing treatment of the formerly taboo subject on the media such as television sit-coms, and feminist equality concerns such as menstruation products being considered “luxury” items compared to the necessity of male products for hair replacement and correction of impotence.

Verdict: Okamoto has thoroughly researched her subject (though the book lacks mention of PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome) and writes in an accessible fashion. Her non-gendered language with terms such as “menstruators” and “people who menstruate” makes her message inclusive and intersectional through gender identity, race, religion, and class. She is a superb example of a young person who followed her passion and made it into an international movement.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice, by Lawrence Goldstone

Goldstone, Lawrence. Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice. Scholastic Focus, 2018. $17.99. 262p. ISBN 978-1-338-23945-4. Ages 13+. P4Q10

Eight years after the Civil War ended, white supremacists murdered between 65 and 400 blacks in Louisiana’s Grant Parish, driving them into a makeshift courthouse, setting it on fire, and shooting anyone who tried to escape the burning building. Despite charges and witnesses, no one was convicted of their crimes, and racist members of the U.S. Supreme Court not only exonerated the killers but also established U.S. law to oppress blacks and deny them human rights. These practices continued for almost 100 years until the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Laced with photographs, cartoons, and other illustrations, the book tracks government, including its racial prejudice, from the early days of the United States for over a century to the late 1800s, including the development of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott decision, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Jim Crow South.

Verdict: Young readers looking for an exciting, gory read as promised by the title and cover will be disappointed because less than one-fourth of the history covers that specific event. But the author presents a fine description of constitutional history and how racist presidents such as Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson perverted the intent for democracy. The explanation of Johnson’s impeachment is also well done, as is the overview of slave states’ acceptance to the Union. One flaw is the positive perspective of the Homestead Act that drove Native Americans from their lands, but the clarity of language and organization makes this book a valuable part of social studies for youth in tracking the injustices suffered by U.S. citizens. RichiesPicks has an excellent overview of the book:

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.