Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review - Poop Happened!

Author:  Sarah Albee
Illustrator: Robert Leighton
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (May 11, 2010)
Reading Level: 5th grade and up
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

History finally comes out of the water-closet in this exploration of how people’s need to relieve themselves shaped human development from ancient times to the present. Throughout time, the most successful civilizations were the ones who realized that everyone poops, and they had better figure out how to get rid of it! From the world’s first flushing toilet invented by ancient Minoan plumbers to castle moats in the middle ages that used more than just water to repel enemies, Sarah Albee traces human civilization using one revolting yet fascinating theme.

A blend of historical photos and humorous illustrations bring the answers to these questions and more to life, plus extra-gross sidebar information adds to the potty humor. This is bathroom reading kids, teachers, librarians, and parents won’t be able to put down!

I am not sure I ever realized how interesting reading about human excrement could be.  Most teachers and parents truly discourage "potty talk" in children.  Author Sarah Albee even acknowledges this in her preface, and yet as she mentions, toilet talk is funny.  There are reasons, both as a child and an adult, that we laugh at those jokes.  In her book Poop Happened! A History of the World From The Bottom Up, the reader gets history mixed with trivia and fun facts.  The book moves from the past (Ancient Greece) to the present day which allows the reader to develop a sense of what each culture has or has not done with the ever present human waste by-product.  Woven through out the pages are trivia facts pointing at practices and customs in history.  Did you know that "the Romans had a goddess of sewers named Venus Cloacina"? Or that before dumping out your chamber pot from an upper story window it was only polite to yell out "Look out below"? 

Throughout Poop Happened!, Albee deals candidly with the regular practices of both the rich and poor.  Hygiene practices were far from what they were today and the increased exposure of human excrement caused frequent illnesses.  I found myself thinking several times that I was glad I didn't live 4 or 5 hundred years ago or well, even 100 years ago.  Thank you Alexander Cummings for inventing the flush toilet that we have today.  However, for all the fun and lightheartedness of the tone of the book, Albee reminds readers that we need to think about how we presently dispose of waste and the impact things such as diapers or dumping waste in waterways impact lives today.

When I read Poop Happened!  I thought about the audience for this book.  Boys and some girls would love it, especially your favorite kid who adores trivia facts and odd bits of information.  The photographs, artwork, and illustrations add appeal to the book.  However, I would recommend it to upper grade readers, with solid reading skills, (4th or 5th graders) all the way through high school.  Whether you choose to read only one or two chapters at a time or to finish the book in one sitting, this is a book that works to engage its readers.  I would certainly recommend it to a students and teachers alike. 

For more information about Sarah Albee, check out her website sarahalbeebooks.com 

She can be found on twitter: @sarahalbee