Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here
Queen Victoria’s Underpants by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
This is the first book in the Queen Victoria ‘series’ (there is only two books, as far as I know). This is one of my favourite kinds of picture books – ones that make historical facts interesting. If you’ve had the good fortune to read Jackie French’s Fair Dinkum History books (excellent books on Australian history for middle grade readers) or her other middle grade historical fiction books, you’d know that she’s excellent at writing history for kids. And (to step up on my soapbox for a moment) history should be about stories and people, not just about dates and places. It’s how we get readers and learners interested, and it’s how we keep them interested. (Step off soapbox)
This book is told from the perspective of a girl whose mother made underpants (or drawers) for Queen Victoria. She frames this by talking about the historical connections of her friends (like Bridget, whose father drove the first steam train in England) before introducing both Queen Victoria and the status of underpants at that time (most people didn’t wear them!) The girl and her family discuss why the Queen might want underpants (rollerskating) and what kind of underpants the Queen might like (tartan or well padded? And should they have a secret pocket?). The whole family gets involved in making 52 pairs of underpants before meeting the Queen – who was wearing a secret smile and a pair of underpants under her dress.
Any book with the word underpants in it is going to amuse children, but this one amused me as well. There’s a lot of humour in both the words, and Bruce Whatley’s wonderful illustrations. The illustrations also add to the historical side of the book – we see toys and pastimes and fashions that were popular during the Victorian times. At the end of the book, there’s a brilliant historical note – about both Queen Victoria and underpants!
It would be fun to go searching for pictures of different underwear at different times after reading this book – it certainly would make an interesting poster or project. Fashion in general, through the ages, would also be fascinating to research. You could also look at Queen Victoria and the Victorian times, or the royal family of England in general. For younger children, you could use paper to make ‘lift the flaps’ of different layers of clothing, or play with a felt board and cut outs of layers of clothing.
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems
At the beginning of this book we learn three things about naked mole rats: they’re a little bit rat, they’re a little bit mole, they are all naked. Except for Wilbur, that is, who likes to wear clothes. This really annoys the other naked mole rats, because it’s totally against the ethos of naked mole rats. They should be naked. It’s right there in the name! The other naked mole rats get so upset, that they take it to Grand-pah – the greatest naked mole rat that ever lived.
This is a book about difference and tolerance – especially when people are doing things that might seem a little strange. The illustrations are fairly simple (though more complex than the Pigeon books) but there’s no dumbing down of the language for younger readers. It’s not the shortest of books, so it may not hold the attention of some readers, but it’s totally worth the effort if you do make it through the book.
This would be another book where felt board activities would be a lot of fun. You could cut out your own naked mole rat and a bunch of things to dress them in. Kids might also like to know more about the naked mole rat (they’re really weird looking!) and you might be able to find some good videos of them on YouTube. You could also use this book for some basic maths data/chance activities – if Wilbur had 2 ties, 2 shirts and 2 pairs of socks, what different combinations could he put together?
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
This is a classic book about a peddler of caps and a bunch of mischievous monkeys. The peddler walks through town trying to sell his caps, with little success. When he falls asleep under a tree, he awakes to find all his caps have been taken by the monkeys up in the tree. He tries everything to convince the monkeys to give the caps back, but the monkeys just imitate everything he does!
This is a classic for a reason. There’s a lot of simple repeating parts, and the little twist at the end is really delightful. There’s a lot you can do with acting this one out, the actions of the peddler and the monkeys are made for movement! Again, a great felt board book (I’m so going to have to make a felt board soon!), and great for counting all the caps.