About the Holiday
International Clothesline Week was established by Gary Drisdelle to encourage people to hang their laundry on outdoor clotheslines or indoor drying racks as a way to engage in and think about more sustainable living. Hanging up laundry has many benefits for you and the environment, from saving on electricity to providing natural exercise to cutting down on ironing. And that fresh, sun-dried smell can’t be beat. This week-long holiday also gives you a chance to appreciate that hamper or basket full of laundry sitting in your house right now. If you think laundry is drudgery now, wait until you learn how our long-ago ancestors handled it in today’s book!
A Brief History of Underpants
Written by Christine Van Zandt | Illustrated by Harry Briggs
Have you ever wondered, while you’re pulling on your underwear, where and how this whole tradition started? Well, you’re about to find out in four fun chapters that iron out the facts—no ifs, ands, or… well, you know! Chapter 1: Crusty Old Buns takes readers back in time when our earlies ancestors “needed protection from spiky plants, curious bugs, and the weather.” We come from some pretty smart stock, it seems, as these prehistoric people made undergarments from “natural plant and animal materials.” How do we know? Archaeologists have dug up the evidence and continue to find more examples all the time. You’ll also find out how early ancestors of the Inuit kept their buns warm and how the first Europeans protected themselves too.
In Chapter 2: Underpants around the World, readers travel to ancient Egypt to learn about the schenti—a kind of wrap-around loincloth. While the common folks’ schenti was made from rough fabric, pharaohs’ fannies were graced by more gentile cloth. “King Tut’s royal rear was covered with a fancy, silky” schenti, and “because this famous Egyptian pharaoh believed in life after death, he was buried with 145 pairs of underpants.” After all, who “wants to be stuck doing laundry in the afterlife?”
Between 1000 and 1500 warriors in Mongolia and Knights in Europe discovered that the right kind of underwear offered protection from pointy arrows and long, bouncy horse rides. And what about women during this time? European women kept their bottoms bare under their long skirts, but they did have to contend with washing everyone else’s “once or twice a year on Wash Day.” Washing—clothes and people—was inconvenient to say the least in those days, but a good soak in “ashes mixed with pee helped remove stains, brighten colors, and degrease spots” and a vigorous scrubbing on rocks in the river did the rest.
In Central and South America, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, a person’s social standing was instantly recognizable by the style, material, color and adornments of their loincloth. And in India, Mahatma Gandhi used his dhoti as a powerful symbol in the country’s fight for independence from Britain in the early to mid-1900s.
Chapter 3: Cheeky Inventions takes kids on a fast-paced, surprising history of innovations large and small that revolutionized the making and wearing of undies—and perhaps most importantly the time spent in the bathroom. Chapter 4: Tushes Today Worldwide reveals a few ways people have fun celebrating and strutting their underwear, and if you’ve ever wondered how the astronauts in the International Space Station handle the whole underwear thing, you’ll find the answers here.
So, that takes us up to current times, but we’re not done yet! Kids learn how to make and wear a Japanese fundoshi, worn by Samurai warriors, they’ll find a couple of jokes to share, and there’s a list of books for further reading.
Full of puns and cheeky asides, Christine Van Zandt’s A Brief History of Underpants uncovers fascinating facts about these garments we take for granted while also revealing tidbits of historical, cultural, and societal traditions from earliest times to the present. Van Zandt’s breezy writing, punctuated by lots of “ewww”-inspiring descriptions, will keep kids laughing and learning and even the most reluctant reader riveted to the pages.
Harry Briggs’ silly cartoon illustrations will have kids laughing out loud as a self-assured King Tut struts across the desert past a pyramid of undies while a less-fortunate Egyptian whips up a vat of red dye made of “sheep poop and rotten olive oil;” Genghis Khan safely pulls a poisoned arrow from his silk under-armor; and downtrodden women gather at the riverbank on the annual Washing Day. A naked caribou, flaming underwear, and a pair of underpants that stretches to fit eleven people are just a few of the funny images that will keep kids turning the pages. Readers will have fun turning the wheel on the front cover to give the kid a revolving evolution of underwear.
Witty, intriguing, and informative, A Brief History of Underpants will captivate any child and makes a unique addition to history or social studies lessons for teachers and homeschoolers.
Ages 4 – 8
becker&mayer! kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0760370605
Discover more about Christine Van Zandt and her books on her website.
To learn more about Harry Briggs, his books, and his art, visit his website.
You can find A Brief History of Underpants at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
Picture Book Review