A Brief History of Underpants

Quarto/Becker & Mayer. Apr. 2021. 48p. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780760370605.
Gr 2-5–While just the idea of underwear will produce giggles in some story time crowds, this book is playing for laughs while conveying historical facts. The silly tone is established immediately with questions such as “Who started the HOLE thing?” and “What’s BEHIND today’s styles?” The first chapter covers general topics about why people wear underpants and some early examples. Next, an “Underpants Around the World” section explores many unique styles and fabrics. Small map graphics with locations starred and dates help convey the time period and worldwide customs. Societal norms influenced who wore certain undergarments, such as the mawashi from Japan and the Central and South American maxtlatl. The majority of the cartoon illustrations depict men, and when women are included it is not always in a positive manner. The Europe 1000-1500 section contains stereotypical language, describing the undergarments worn by “women, including damsels in distress,” and saying how women did not need the same type of clothing as knights because “a woman’s biggest battle was fought once or twice a year on wash day.” Evidenced by the popularity of titles such as Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, there is an audience for the topic. No specific sources are listed, but there are suggestions for further reading.
VERDICT Humorous illustrations and bouncy text keep the pages turning quickly in this lightweight history, but selectors should be aware of the abovementioned stereotypical language.

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