Two figurines stand against a burnt orange background. Half of their bodies show pale skin and old-fashioned clothing; the other half show decomposing organs and bones. Text: "Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David. Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History."

KidLit Book Review: Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History by Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David and Gillian Wilson

Hi, kids! I’m excited to be back from my brief blog hiatus. I wanted to add a quick note saying how much I missed you. Thanks so much for your patience while I was away, and thanks for coming back to see me!

And now we return to our regularly scheduled book review:


Synopsis

The clothes we wear every day keep us comfortable, protect us from the elements, and express our unique style — but could fashion also be fatal? As it turns out, history is full of fashions that have harmed or even killed people. From silhouette-cinching corsets and combustible combs to lethal hair dyes and flammable flannel, this nonfiction book looks back at the times people have suffered pain, injury, and worse, all in the name of style. Historical examples like the tragic “Radium Girl” watchmakers and mercury-poisoned “Mad Hatters,” along with more recent factory accidents, raise discussion of unsafe workplaces — where those who make the clothes are often fashion’s first victims.


Details

  • Title: Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History
  • Authors: Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David
  • Illustrator: Gillian Wilson
  • Cover Design: Alisa Baldwin
  • Publisher: Owlkids Books
  • ISBN: 1771472537
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2019
  • For Ages: 9-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank Owlkids Books for providing a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review

Filled with macabre humor and fascinating facts about history, science, and culture, Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History is a winning kids’ nonfiction title that will shock, delight, and educate in equal measure. The book examines literal fashion victims who have succumbed to everything from typhus to accidental strangling to radium poisoning because of clothing. Every aspect of this book is impressive the breadth and depth of research, Gillian Wilson’s gleefully morbid illustrations, authors Alison Matthews David and Serah-Marie McMahon’s consistently informative and engaging tone but what struck me the most was the incredible balancing act the authors pulled off. They revel in the gory details of poisonings, tramplings, and near-beheadings, but they always show the utmost empathy toward the victims. The authors even conclude the book by emphasizing our collective responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us and to hold corporations and governments to account to make the world safer for everyone. It’s an incredible accomplishment and easily one of my favorite reads of the year.

A two-page spread titled "Poisonous Green." Images include a photo of a light green ball gown, illustrations of light-skinned hands affected by arsenic poisoning, and a drawing entitled "The Arsenic Waltz" showing a skeleton in a tuxedo bowing in front of a skeleton in a ball gown.

This is one of the most compulsively readable nonfiction books I’ve ever encountered. The art, text, and design work together perfectly to create a unified whole that is funny, weird, and enlightening. The text is sophisticated yet accessible; it’s a fun read that never talks down to its young audience or sugarcoats its often grisly subject matter. Alisa Baldwin’s book design is superb, creating an exciting and coherent narrative flow. An abundance of historical photos and illustrations enrich each section, and Gillian Wilson’s illustrations complement the wry commentary on death and misfortune.

Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History combines a love of fashion, history, and science with wicked humor and an unabashed enthusiasm for the macabre. My favorite pop culture discoveries fill a void that I didn’t even know existed; this title fills a very peculiar niche in kids’ publishing and makes me feel a little more complete now that it’s out in the world. I’m confident that there are a lot of young readers out there who will feel the same way. With a unique approach to STEAM and a subtle but clear overarching message of empathy and caring for the marginalized members of our communities, Killer Style is one of the best books of 2019.


Rating

Any kids’ book that details Isadora Duncan’s tragic demise gets an automatic 5 out of 5 coffins from me.

5 Coffins


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