Monday, September 23, 2013

America's Gross History

I have been a history enthusiast for quite awhile. I think my love of history developed when I had a wonderful teacher in high school name Coach Zidermanis. I was excited to enter his classroom everyday because I knew he was going to weave fascinating stories into the historical facts he wanted us to remember. In college I continued this love by taking a number of courses, eventually earning a minor in history. To this day I love to read about our history, whether through biographies or historical fiction.

Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey peaked my interest immediately. Most of the information in the book I already knew because of Coach Z's stories, my personal readings, or visits to historical locations around the country. My prior knowledge about these disgusting treatments, habits, etc., prepared me for this wonderful non-fiction book which I believe any elementary or middle school student would find fascinating and repugnant at the same time.

Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History
by Lois Miner Huey
Huey includes all of the essentials and more for this non-fiction text: table of contents, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, further reading (books and websites), places to visit, and an index. In four interesting and informative we are introduced to the vile surroundings and happenings of 1770 North America.

As we are transported through a time machine to 1770, the setting is set for us. We are shifted from present day and time to June 1770 in a "city populated mostly by white settlers". Huey is great about providing additional information concerning aspects of history to which the young readers may not be familiar. Such as the fact there will not be any Native Americans in the city and the "black people were enslaved (to) work as house servants and in shops" (pg. 5). 

We are then plunged head first into "The Awful Smells" of the city. I'm sure most readers will find their habit of tossing the contents of the chamber pot into the street disgusting (and not typically shared in the state history books), but it happened. Some may find this information disturbing, however it can help readers understand certain sayings they may have heard, but never understood - "Don't have a pot to piss in". I know this is a bit crass, but in order to understand the saying, one must understand the conditions from which the early settlers were living in at the time. There was no running water, no toilet. We also learn the people in this time period felt bathing to be unhealthy. It was believed a film of dirt on the body would keep out bad air which could cause diseases. Native American bathed in creeks and streams and felt the Europeans smelled. Women would wear heavy perfumes in order to hide their odor and fan's to keep odor away and to hide their rotting teeth. 

The next chapter takes us to "Creepy, Crawly Bugs". We are told we will be spending the night in a tavern, sharing a bed with two other travelers. Huey's description of the mosquitoes, bedbugs, and head lice made me start to itch while reading. Reading about the flies buzzing around the meat hanging in the streets for sale and the cook killing the flour beetles in the flour (and missing some) before using it to cook will make most readers thankful for pesticides and food regulations. Hook- and Tapeworms are touched upon, but these were bugs the settlers suffered through without knowing they existed.

A few years ago I learned the symbolic representation of the red and white barber pole. Off the top of my head I couldn't say where I learned this, but the barbers "skill with sharp instruments" allowed them to "sometimes perform operations" (p. 27). Now, the pole is not actually mentioned in this book, but the barber's non-hair cutting duties - such as pulling teeth, bloodletting, and some surgeries - are mentioned. Doctors are also shown to create a balance in the body for sick patients through bloodletting and the use of leeches. It was believed the removal of bodily fluids (blood, poop, pus, sweat, urine, and vomit) would remove the imbalance, thus making the person healthy again.

Through television and movies we have seen the early settlers wore an abundance of clothing. In the final chapter of this informative book we learn although they wore many layers, underwear was not part of their wardrobe. We also learn that like taking a bath, washing of clothes was limited to "shifts, shirts, poopy diapers (not urine soaked diapers - which were merely hung to dry), bedsheets, and stockings" (p. 38). The outer garments - "coats, breeches, vests, and gowns" were almost never washed. This reinforces the smell of the time, as well as the spread of germs and disease.

This is a wonderful book for upper elementary and middle school students. I believe high school and adult readers would find the information disturbing, but very interesting. I would highly recommend this book for school and public libraries.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Millbrook Press, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

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