I visited Teach Mentor Texts this morning and found they were participating in non-fiction picture book Wednesday, a meme hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and The Nonfiction Detectives. I'm not sure I'll always have a non-fiction book to review, but I just finished a wonderful one and wanted to share with everyone. Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy and The Nonfiction Detectives to see what non-fiction others have to share, too.
I’ve long wished to travel to Venice, a most romantic-sounding city, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go there in the 1700’s. Sarah Albee, writer of Poop Happened! A History of The World From The Bottom Up tells us that Venice’s concert halls, where the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, and Mozart are being played, there were no bathroom facilities at all. People simply relieved themselves wherever they wanted. She also asks the reader to Imagine what the concert hall must have smelled like after a three-hour performance.
This book is almost 200 pages of pure, interesting information, yet unfortunately it tells a woeful tale of polluted waterways, homes, rivers, and air—past and present. And it takes hundreds of years and many pages to get to the life-saving discoveries of microbes begun by the work of a Dr. John Snow, carried further by Louis Pasteur, and concluded with the isolation of the cholera microbe by a German Scientist, all this in the late 1800’s.
The story of what small groups, communities, then towns and finally cities did with all their poop, from both humans and animals is traced tongue-in-cheek as well as most seriously by Sarah Albee. With the help of illustrator Robert Leighton, the chapters are divided into accessible parts alongside the main stories. Parts in artful text boxes are titled “Hygiene Heroes”, “Icky Information” and “Too Much Information” (for the more ghastly stuff). Rolls of toilet paper scroll down the sides of some pages. Cartoon drawings by Leighton along with original historical cartoons add to the appeal of the pages.
The chapters are divided in such inviting ways that it is hard to stop once beginning the reading. Titles like the first one, Poop Matters, one in the middle, Vileness in the Victorian Era and the last, Toilet Talk cover wide ranges of territory. There was little written about this topic in ancient writings and Albee shares some, but most of the book occurs from what is thought of as the Dawn of Civilization, about 12,000 years ago, moves on to ancient Rome, then the Roman Empire and on.
Poop Happened answered many of the questions I’ve always had about bathroom habits in the past. When one reads a glorious story, and they never mention things like, “oh by the way, John and I stopped along the escape route because we had to poo (insert your favorite word), I always wondered how, in this hours-long journey, did they manage to ‘hold it’? I guess they didn’t and perhaps Queen Victoria’s strict habits had much to do with the talk for the writing down of these bathroom needs is seldom seen. It’s a terrific and informative book.