Today it is my pleasure to feature a fascinating picture book by author CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT (Illustrator Harry Briggs) about something we all use, and rarely think much about until we run out…underpants!
How did you decide to write about “unmentionables”?
While volunteering at our elementary school’s annual Book Fair, kids told me they thought nonfiction picture books were boring. Set out to prove them wrong, I brainstormed for a topic. Our (then) third grader came up with underwear.
After researching what had been published, there seemed to be room in the marketplace, so I wrote the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants, then connected with a publisher via the Twitter event, #PitMad.
What was the research process like?
Researching was crazy because the pandemic had closed down libraries and bookstores right when I most needed them. I ended up buying a lot of reference books online and using reputable e-sources to uncover underwear info from all of the continents back to the beginning of time.
Finding underpants facts in general is harder than you’d think—I guess there’s a reason they’re called “unmentionables”!
What is the funniest thing that happened since the book’s been out?
Since my book’s about all the things we’ve historically worn “down under,” I think it’s funny that my book’s quite popular Down Under with high sales numbers in Australia to bookstores, libraries, and readers.
The illustrations are so much fun and add another layer of laughs to the book. Did you have any input into the illustrations?
I enjoy Harry Briggs’s art; his iconic comic-style worked well with this book. His illustrations for A Brief History of Underpants had to be somewhat realistic so I communicated links with images of historical underwear for his reference. H took it from there. I good example of this is the Ötzi the Iceman spread. The clothing scraps echo the real items Ötzi was found wearing; everything else is just Harry’s fabulous imagination!
What is your favorite fact from the book?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose. While I’m fascinated that King Tut was buried with 145 loincloths (and wish I knew why!), I have to vote for the Medieval fact that ashes mixed with pee help remove stains, brighten colors, and degrease spots. That’s kind of gross to our modern sensibilities, yet I appreciate how it’s practical and natural to reuse things that would otherwise be thrown out. I’m not saying we should do this exactly, but finding another use for garbage seems like a great idea.
What’s next for your writing?
I have a number of completed picture books. One I would like to see take wings is a lyrical narrative nonfiction picture book about the challenges faced by monarch butterflies, from egg through metamorphosis. This manuscript has won a few prestigious awards, such as through SCBWI. I hope the story connects with a publisher so I can share this amazing creature’s struggle to survive and how actions such as growing pesticide-free flowers and milkweed can make a difference in this butterfly’s survival.
Here’s my review of this delightful and entertaining book: “A humorous and entertaining walk through the history of underpants. Ever wonder what astronauts in space or explorers in Antarctica do with dirty undies? Want to dress like a samurai? Ever wonder who invented underwear to begin with? All these questions and many more are answered in an informative, pun-filled way. The playful and funny illustrations add another layer of enjoyment to a subject kids will be drawn to. Everyone needs underwear…and you will need this book for the classroom and beyond.”
Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear (yet!), but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Visit her online at christinevanzandt.com.
Author photo by Marlena Van Zandt Book images courtesy of becker&mayer! kids
GIVEAWAY: Christine has agreed to mail a signed copy of the book to a US address randomly chosen from those who leave a comment below. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to win.