Monday, August 1, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Big Wig: A Little History of Hair, by Kathleen Krull (Arthur A. Levine, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Hair--we’re all obsessed with it, to one degree or another.  But how many of us spend time thinking about the history of hair?  Veteran non-fiction writer Kathleen Krull does--her first “book”, written when she was ten, was called “Hair-Dos and People I Know,” a collection of hair-dos of all kinds.  

So it should be no surprise that her newest book looks at the history of hairstyles, and of those individuals who “made history with their hair.”  In the beginning, she reminds us, “everyone is furry.”  But over the centuries fur coats grow smaller and smaller, until they’re mainly on top for sun protection.  Now we’ve got hair instead of fur.  Krull touches briefly on many hair related topics in chronological order, from the evolution of hair color (how and why did a cavewoman wind up with blonde hair?) to Egyptians who shaved their heads to get rid of bugs but then wore wigs to protect their heads from the hot sun, to punk rockers’ Mohawks and Dorothy Hamill’s wedge cut.  Kids will especially relish descriptions of all kinds of disgusting-sounding early hair products.  Did you know “goat pee” and “pigeon poop” were early remedies to get rid of baldness?  Cleopatra recommended a blend of horse teeth and deer marrow, mixed with toasted mice, to her bald lover, Julius Caesar.  Avocado, bear grease, and butter were used in various time periods to make hair soft and shiny.  Flour helped powder wigs for 17th and 18th century aristocrats, and Marie Antoinette and her friends sported huge hair-dos adorned with everything from miniature ships to birdcages and toys.  

Back matter includes “hair extensions,” providing further details about hair in each of the time periods portrayed in the text as well as a bibliography with other sources suitable both for young readers and adults.  

The illustrations by British artist Peter Malone greatly enhance this entertaining volume.  At once elegant and hilarious, who could resist the whimsy of three monkeys sitting in the African savannah on beauty parlor chairs with hair dryers over their heads, surrounded by elephants, giraffes, and oddly enough, the Statue of Liberty?  Or Cleopatra and Julius Caesar surrounded by a variety of animals in the process of urinating into buckets?  Or my personal favorite, a bear barber coiffing the Mohawk hairdo of a Native American. The finely detailed gouache art will be sure to fascinate young people who take the time to carefully peruse the drawings.  Especially noteworthy is the way Malone mimics the style of the art of the countries and periods discussed; i.e. text about samurai hairstyles is illustrated by a drawing in a perfect mimicry of Japanese classical art.


Ms. Yingling said...

DEFINITELY need this one. Love Krull, and this is the sort of nonfiction that the students love. Adding it to my list right now!

Louise said...

This sounds fantastic- such a fun idea for a book.

Books4Learning said...

I wonder sometimes where people come up with unique topics such as this one and wish that I have a fun epiphany like it! :) This looks like an entertaining read on a topic not likely to find easily. Thanks for sharing.

shelf-employed said...

I've got to see this one. Kathleen Krull is always entertaining!