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An entertaining, brief survey of professions past.

Can you imagine what people once did for a living?

From “walking toilets” to balladeers “who belted out the daily news,” Rottmann covers dozens of professions that were once perhaps not popular but possible. Short entries ranging in length from one to three pages describe each profession and when and why it died out. Callouts illuminate noteworthy facts, provide historical or social context, or give more logistical details. Some jobs could be found in multiple cultures and countries; a few crossed gender lines. Some, like bematists (step counters who measured vast distances), disappeared due to advancements in technology and tools (hodometers in this case). Others went out of vogue with changing social, geological, or political dynamics: “What people find useful is always changing. So, certain professions disappear, but new ones come into being.” Alchemists fell out of favor, superseded by chemists; natural historians, biologists, archaeologists, and professional treasure hunters are modern-day explorers. Rottmann notes that some jobs, such as professional mourners, might be making a comeback. Bold, almost caricature-esque, cartoony illustrations capture the gamut of professions featured in this Swiss import, from the bleak, beak-wearing plague doctor to the showy festival pyrobolists. Occasional anecdotes provide wry commentary—alchemists brewed Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, an elixir of life only to accidentally kill him with poisonous mercury. A handful of summary spreads break up the selection of extinct professions.

An entertaining, brief survey of professions past. (Nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2023

ISBN: 9783907293935

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Helvetiq

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Bial (A Handful of Dirt, p. 299, etc.) conjures up ghostly images of the Wild West with atmospheric photos of weathered clapboard and a tally of evocative names: Tombstone, Deadwood, Goldfield, Progress, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, the OK Corral. Tracing the life cycle of the estimated 30,000 ghost towns (nearly 1300 in Utah alone), he captures some echo of their bustling, rough-and-tumble past with passages from contemporary observers like Mark Twain: “If a man wanted a fight on his hands without any annoying delay, all he had to do was appear in public in a white shirt or stove-pipe hat, and he would be accommodated.” Among shots of run-down mining works, dusty, deserted streets, and dark eaves silhouetted against evening skies, Bial intersperses 19th-century photos and prints for contrast, plus an occasional portrait of a grizzled modern resident. He suggests another sort of resident too: “At night that plaintive hoo-hoo may be an owl nesting in a nearby saguaro cactus—or the moaning of a restless ghost up in the graveyard.” Children seeking a sense of this partly mythic time and place in American history, or just a delicious shiver, will linger over his tribute. (bibliography) (Nonfiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-06557-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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