Did you know that a certain sea snail which “secretes a snot-like substance that turns different colors when exposed to sunlight” was used to dye the Phoenicians’ fabric? That corsets in the late 1800’s could exert 88 pounds of force on the internal organs?
Have you heard of a crossing sweeper? Not a crossing guard, a crossing sweeper. A crossing sweeper who swept muck and the thirty pounds of daily horse manure out of the way when a fine lady or gentleman crossed the street in the early nineteenth century.
Have you heard of Venus Cloacina? Not the goddess of love but the Roman goddess of sewers.
Can you explain how the mosquito contributed to the Louisiana Purchase? Or why the first early European settlers of Florida slept buried in sand?
If you’ve read any of Sarah Albee’s browsable non-fiction you could probably answer yes.
But to read Why’d They Wear That?, Bugged, and Poop Happened is more than snacking on fascinating friend-stumping trivia. It is to feast on fabulously original takes on history.
Why’d They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History gives the readers a glimpse into the moral, social and political climates of the time. Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up examines the public health consequences of sanitation choices as societies navigate waste disposal. Bugged: How Insects Changed History combines history, microbiology, epidemiology and conservation to explain the impact of living with ten quintillion insects.
Sarah Albee’s high appeal books with comprehensive content are no accident. Albee says she thinks like a twelve year old. All her books are structured chronologically because it is important to her to help kids make connections.
So the next time you don your fleece made from recycled plastic bottles, or you drink your milk that has been produced by a cow not stressed by too many flies, or you use toilet paper invented by the Chinese for emperor use only, you can remember Sarah Albee’s sideways takes on the world.
Samantha Kane is the Library Teacher at The Chestnut Hill School