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HAIRDO! by Ruth Freeman Swain


What We Do and Did to Our Hair

by Ruth Freeman Swain & illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith

Age Range: 6 - 10

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8234-1522-8
Publisher: Holiday House

Moving on from Bedtime (1999), Swain and Smith turn to hair as a cultural statement. From people who shaved their heads and those who chose to be hairy, to people who grew beards or wore elaborate hairstyles, preferences often changed throughout history. The Ancient Egyptians were not a hairy bunch, whereas the Greeks were, often wearing long beards into battle. That is, until they realized that a beard could be grabbed by the enemy and used against them. Razors soon caught on. The thinning hair of King Louis XIV led to a run on the wigmaker’s shops, while 18th-century European women had towering mountains of hair that were coated with lard and flour and lasted for weeks or months. Native American and African hairdos reflected the styles of their tribes; while the Chinese queue was originally ordered by the invading Manchus, but caught on to become a popular style. Hair adornments are also addressed, including the Egyptian method of keeping cool by placing a cone of perfumed (and melting) beeswax on the top of the head. Swain’s mixture of humor and history makes this an effective look, not just at hairstyles, but also at social change. While more heavily Western, she has done a nice job of representing many non-Western cultures. Whatever the style, the message is clear: hair grows quickly, easily changes styles, and can demonstrate to people anything from religious or political views and occupation, to social or marital status. Smith’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations fit hairstyle and era together seamlessly. Each page features not only the hair of the time, but also the clothing, furniture, and some aspects of everyday lives. A cut above. (hair facts, bibliography) (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-10)