Friday, November 4, 2011
Book Review: Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants, by Tony Johnston (Harcourt, 2011)
Author Tony Johnston, who has published more than 100 books for children, spins an old-fashioned tall tale based on the story of Levi Strauss and his "invention" of blue jeans in this new picture book. Filled with colorful Western-style language and illustrated with great humor by Stacy Innerst, this book would make a terrific addition to a gold rush unit at school or a discussion of tall tales.
The story begins with a hilarious close-up of a bearded miner with quite a few missing teeth yelling "gold!" as the gold rush began. But the miners' pants couldn't take the rough conditions of the gold field, and soon, according to this fanciful version, miners were working in their long johns, or "naked as a jaybird." Fortunately for the miners, Levi Strauss arrived in California too late for the gold, but was "slick with a needle and scissors." Soon Levi came up with some pants in which the miners "rushed, rushed, rushed" and no harm came to the pants! And in an alternative history, Levi Strauss even helps found the city of San Francisco--with barrels!
In an afterword, Johnston relates that the story of Levi Strauss and his invention of blue jeans is "mostly legend with threads of truth, which my version stretches to near popping." She provides some basic biographical facts on Levi Strauss, who while he may not have sewn any blue jeans, made them famous and became rich from manufacturing and selling them.
If you think you see the texture of blue jeans in the witty illustrations, you're right--illustrator Stacy Innerst painted directly on blue jeans to get just the right effect for this story. You can even see the seams of the jeans in many of the images. The stylized artwork, with its exaggerated facial expressions and earth tones, is a delightful fit for the tall tale aspect of this story. Teachers could easily cut up some old denim for kids to paint on, making this story a fun inspiration for a craft activity as well.