Don’t Let the Barber Pull Your Teeth
Written by Carmen Bredeson
Illustrated by Gerald Kelley
Part of the “Ye Yucky Middle Ages” series, this book walks kids (and parents) through the parts of public health that we all pay attention to: washing in dirty water, piles of poop, diseases, tooth decay, leeches and more. Life, in general, was gross, and, as the book points out, bathing was optional. Why use dirty water to wash in? Were the people of old just stupid?
No, Berdeson explains, these people weren’t stupid. They just did not understand what germs were or how these germs caused diseases. Their medical treatments were based on what they could see, and what they imagined. Doctors bled patients to restore the balance of blood to all parts of the body and they drilled holes in the head to relieve headaches. Both ideas seem obviously dangerous today, but the logic is there.
Each chapter in this third grade level book addresses a different section of medieval life, ranging from the extremely personal life (where did the medieval people go to the bathroom), to the more public life (how the plague changed the socio-economic landscape for all time). Each chapter is also self-contained, which encourages the reading skills of reluctant readers, who may want a short piece of information instead of a longer story.
Bredeson’s narration is light, but not comic. In a few words, she puts the medical decisions made by these people into the context of their time. Explaining, for example, that surgery was a risky business: “People who survived surgery often ended up with massive infections. None of the surgical instruments were cleaned between operations. However, medieval people did pour alcohol on wounds. They did not understand that alcohol kills germs, but knew it helped with healing.”
Readers will love the yuck factor of this book, and the others in the series. And they might brush their teeth more willingly when they read about the gross alternatives.
While not dating back to the Middle ages, these museums offer other history on health and medicine.
National Museum of Health and Medicine
National Museum of Dentistry
- Title: Don’t Let the Barber Pull Your Teeth: Could You Survive Medieval Medicine?
- Author: Carmen Bredeson
- Illustrator: Gerald Kelley
- Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
- Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
- Paperback: 48 pages
- ISBN: 978-1-59845-373-7
- Genre: nonfiction, history and science