HOLD everything–are we really celebrating a book about The BRIEF History of Underpants?
You bet your BOTTOM dollar, we are.
“Leaving no double entendre unturned, Van Zandt chronicles tushie-wear from the ‘beginning of buns’ onward.”―Booklist
“I laughed my butt off! Not only is this book funny, but Christine Van Zandt delivers a veritable wedgie-whirlwind of utterly fascinating underwear info!”
―Aaron Reynolds, NYT bestselling author of Creepy Pair of Underwear
“Humorous illustrations and bouncy text keep the pages turning quickly in this lightweight history.”―School Library Journal
10 Questions for Christine Van Zandt
Q 1. I read that A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR was inspired by kids at your daughter’s elementary school’s Book Fair who said nonfiction picture books were boring. (Full SCBWI Kite Tales interview here.) My question—why underwear? What’s beneath this particular choice of topic? (See what I did there?)
Christine Van Zandt: When I realized that some kids felt this way about nonfiction books, it made me want to prove that facts could be fun. And, what’s more fun than underwear?! For the youngest kids—what an accomplishment to move on from diapers to exciting big-kid undies. Then, there’s the famous underpants-wearing character that we all know and love who has made walking around in his tighty-whities commonplace. Since kids were already engaging with this idea, why not expand the underpants connection to include facts?
Discoveries & Surprises
Q 2. Your book states that a sumo wrestler’s “unrolled mawashi [loincloth-style underwear worn as outerwear] are about as long as a school bus and as heavy as a watermelon.” What was the most surprising discovery you made as you went from idea to published book?
Christine Van Zandt: The most surprising fact was how difficult it was to research this topic. I stuck to reputable sources and verified each item multiple times. Yet, some findings are ancient or have contradictions. In many reference books, “unmentionables” weren’t mentioned—and they certainly weren’t photographed. Researching clothing items that aren’t talked about, or shown as they were truly worn, made this aspect challenging. Historians try to reconstruct the truth from partially preserved underwear scraps and limited information.
My final list of references and facts that went to the publisher’s fact-checking department was sixteen pages, single-spaced. This book goes back to the earliest undergarments known when I was researching. Already now, a year later, there likely have been new discoveries and ideas about what people wore and why. It’s hard to fit an ever-changing world history into a 1,500-word book and, as it goes with traditional publication, some decisions are out of a writer’s control.
Q 3. Were there any surprises that illustrator Harry Briggs brought to the book?
Christine Van Zandt: Harry’s illustrations were full of surprises! His style enhances the text’s humor. For specific underwear facts, I provided links to images and such. He took it from there, adding his talent and imagination.
Q 4. How have your experiences as an editor and parent influenced your approach in writing for children, and specifically A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS?
Christine Van Zandt: Working as an editor has made aware of what’s expected in today’s marketplace and what’s being published, both in adult and children’s manuscripts.
Being a parent made kid’s books part of my daily life. That immersion influenced me and I switched my focus from writing and publishing for adult audiences to doing so for kids. Reading thousands of picture books gave me knowledge that’s helpful for any manuscript I write.
Reading & Writing
Q 5. Since your bio mentions a monarch butterfly sanctuary, how would you compare the life cycle of a monarch butterfly to writing a picture book?
Christine Van Zandt: Just as a monarch has four cycles in its life (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly), so does the writing of a picture book:
- The idea is formed in your mind.
- It hatches into words that grow and shed, grow and shed.
- Once expanded as much as possible, it must transform into something else.
- After what seems like a long wait, a book launches into the world.
Q 6. When did the writing bug “bite”?
Christine Van Zandt: I think I was born bitten! I’ve always written in one way or another, keeping a diary in elementary school. I was a business major before giving in to my heart and switching to English lit.
Q 7. Do you enjoy reading as much as writing?
Christine Van Zandt: I love to read and wish I could do more of it. I read widely, but, when I have a story idea brewing, I read with intention.
I also love to write, but it’s different than reading. Writing is something I’m driven to do. If I go too long without writing, I feel antsy.
Q 8. Taking a page from your own Kite Tales/ SCBWI interviews: What’s expected of today’s children’s nonfiction picture book authors? How has the pandemic changed these expectations?
Christine Van Zandt: Beyond writing an amazing book, then connecting it to the right agent and/or publisher for publication, authors today are expected to have social media platforms and be able to promote each project.
The pandemic’s made it easier to engage with people around the world via sites like Zoom, but that means recording (and editing) content, and performing virtual school and bookstore visits.
Q 9. Favorite nonfiction book and why?
Christine Van Zandt: I’m happy to see so many environmentally focused books. A recent favorite is the middle-grade book, You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet, by Lucy Bell. I wish families and classrooms everywhere would read this book for its approachable ideas on how we all can help conserve our planet. It conveys important information in a kid-friendly manner. Astred Hicks’s colorful illustrations capture the beauty of our world.
Q 10. Favorite underwear joke. ( I know you have one!)
Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids.
She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Visit her online at christinevanzandt.com and follow Christine Van Zandt on these links:
Fun fact: Illustrator Harry Briggs is on Instagram as : @HairyBriggs (You read that correctly!)
Also: I believe we mentioned a…
Christine Van Zandt is generously hosting a #Giveaway where the lucky randomly-selected recipient can select EITHER a copy of A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (US residents only)
OR a manuscript critique (1,000 words or fewer, text only).
1. Retweet this post with the hashtag: #BriefHISTORYofUnderwearGiveaway
2. Follow @ChristineVZ on Twitter
Deadline: THIS THURSDAY, 7/1, at midnight / Pacific Time.
Christine will choose a random winner on FRI, 7/2.
I’ll be making art with the THEATER kids at Fine Arts Camp in July. Yayy! See you back here in August with a Book Birthday celebration of Katelyn Aronson’s CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL.