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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Lowdown on Denim, written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Clayton Hanmer. Annick Press, 2011. $12.95 ages 9 and up

"People are still doing crazy blue-jean stunts. Scientists from Cornell University and the Science Center of Ithaca once used seven pairs of jeans to lift a station wagon into the air. When the jeans survived that, the scientists lowered the car, removed one pair and hoisted everything up again. The jeans still held."

What great fun this book was to read! As someone who never wears blue jeans, I found myself intrigued by the many fine qualities of said article of clothing. I would pair this book with Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). It's filled with funny stories, and is written to be read and appreciated by upper elementary and middle school readers. 

It begins with an impressive question:

"The American denim industry makes about $13 billion each year selling all kinds of jeans - from affordable pairs to high-fashion versions that only the super-rich can buy. Why do shoppers spend all this money on an ordinary item of clothing?"

Good question...and so the author uses jeans as the focus for a historical journey that tells the story of denim over the years since it was first made in the 1860s. It is quite the amazing trek, and begins with Levi Strauss who was looking for a material that would hold up for the men who were working in the gold rush. He joined forces with Jacob Davis and the rest as they history!

Tanya Lloyd Kyi fills the pages with a huge amount of researched information concerning the appeal, the changes in style, the economic realities of wearing denim at various times in history, and the need to follow trends established by those with star power:

"By the 1990s there were hundreds of jeans variations: tight, baggy, dark, faded, boot-cut, bell-bottomed, and beaded. There was a different pair for everyone's taste and budget - especially if that budget happened to be huge. A Roberto Cavalli design with a beaded waistband went for a whopping $1,840. Gucci jeans with torn knees showcased on fashion runways in 1999, and they sold out instantly. They were $3,715 a pair." PUL-eeze!!!

Not only will middle graders be attracted to the content, they will be equally fascinated by the design. Cartoon drawings begin each chapter. They are backgrounded with blue jean pockets, and followed within the chapter by blue graphica, information boxes (also set on pieces of denim) and illustrations that help with further understanding. Here's a little Canadian content:

"In 1951, superstar singer Bing Crosby arrived at a Canadian hotel in Levi's jeans and a denim jacket. The hotel refused to allow him inside. When Levi Strauss & Co. learned of the incident, it produced a tuxedo jacket tailored specifically for Crosby - and made entirely of denim."

The author mentions that today's consumers are showing concern for the companies making jeans, and where their work is being done. They are encouraged to ask questions about a company's practices concerning contracts, labor, safety standards being met, and the processes for making the many varied types of jeans. They are told that they can make a difference by asking those questions:

"You won't get the answers to your questions on every company website. If you can't find the information you're looking for, try emailing and writing to the company's public relations department. When enough people write letters about their concerns, companies listen. After all, teens are these companies' biggest market. Indirectly, we control the blue jeans world!" 

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