March 3, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, by Christine Van Zandt

Hello readers, it's time for another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is Christine Van Zandt, and we'll be talking about her forthcoming book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (illustrated by Harry Briggs, published by Quarto Kids, April, 2021). 

So if you've been itching to talk about unmentionables, today is your day! 

(Book Cover and interior images courtesy of becker&mayer! kids)

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by the blog, Christine. Being a self-proclaimed potty-humorist, I was immediately intrigued by the topic and (clever!) title of your forthcoming book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS. It’s described as “one part humor, one part history” that "explores the evolution of fashion’s most unmentionable garment.” Ha! If that description doesn’t get a young reader’s attention, I don’t know what will!

You mentioned that you had an interesting story about how this book came about. I’d love to hear it! (I’d especially like to hear what prompted the idea for this book, as well as the process and timeframe between your initial idea and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.)

Christine Van Zandt: It all began at our elementary school where I had been a “book volunteer” since kindergarten. One of the jobs this included was working at our school’s annual week-long Book Fair, helping kids, parents, and teachers select books. In June 2018, nonfiction books were prominently featured in displays. Adults excitedly pointed them out, but one kid after another stated “nonfiction books are boring” even though many wonderful nonfiction books were offered. The kids’ complaints stuck with me. What would make more kids want to read nonfiction?

Humor was already a part of my writing, so writing a funny book was a natural choice, but I needed a great topic. When my third-grader suggested underwear, I loved it and I checked out what had been published on that topic. The most popular 32-page nonfiction picture book was ~2,700 words. It was amazing, but seemed far too long for this age group. Taking a new angle, I condensed the world history of underpants into short, fast scenes. (The final version of my 48-page book came in at ~1,500 words.)

I wrote the first draft January 2019, revised for a few months, workshopped it with my critique group in July, then revised some more.

In September 2019, I pitched this story on the #PitMad Twitter pitch event. A children’s book editor from Quarto Kids liked my pitch, so I sent her the full manuscript which led to the book contract and the book’s upcoming April 2021 publication date.

DP: What a fun backstory! And thanks for sharing these interior spreads! They are fabulous! 

(From A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS by Christine Van Zandt and Harry Briggs) 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this book to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? 

CVZ: The size of my book ballooned. I’d written the book as a 32-page picture book but the publisher envisioned a longer book. To take the book to 150% of its original length, I needed additional research but it was the early stages of the pandemic. I couldn’t even borrow books online from the library and pick them up via appointment as we can now (January 2021).

While there are some great online resources (such as encyclopedic, historical, and archaeological sites), I wasn’t finding enough facts, so I ended up buying at least 20 reference books to get the research done.

DP: Way to be nimble! (And I, too, have purchased more books than usual to support my research during the pandemic.) 

It’s my understanding that in addition to writing for young readers, you are also a freelance editor, so you have experience on both sides of the table. Based on this experience, what is one piece of professional advice that you have for fellow authors (or illustrators) who are seeking to transform a great idea for a book into a manuscript suitable for submission and eventual publication? 

CVZ: Workshop your story with critique partners. I wouldn’t have gotten this book or my other manuscripts from drafts to polished pieces without critique groups. I run a group that used to meet in person, but now meets via Zoom—we’ve been together for years. A steady group holds me to deadlines (need something to workshop each month!). These writers see various versions of the same story, and will point out when something in an earlier draft worked better.

For additional perspectives, I also workshop with other critique groups that include writers from across the US and in other countries. 

DP: Excellent advice! Thanks! 

Looking at your website, you have a lot of different projects competing for your attention (i.e. the freelance editing service; picture book critique giveaways; book reviews for Good Reads with Ronna; a quarterly “Ask an Editor” column for SCBWI's Kite Tales; and freelance articles in various magazines). Whew! I’m exhausted just writing all of this down. How do you balance the time between your different projects and the different aspects of the publishing business?

CVZ: I’m a multitasker, relying on calendars and lists to keep me on track. When at-home school started in early March 2020, my scheduled working hours disappeared but the jobs still need to be finished so I find time. For me, this usually means getting up first to have uninterrupted hours—well, there is the cat on my desk who likes to help me type, but that’s a story for another day!

DP: I admire your tenacity! (And calendar-keepers unite!) 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

CVZ: While I will continue devoting time to promoting A Brief History of Underpants, I’m always reading, writing, revising, and looking to get my next picture book published.

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books with us, Christine!

And friends, here's the skinny: If you want to thank Christine for sharing this behind-the-scenes view into the path to publication, please consider supporting her work by buying her book. It's available everywhere books are sold (but as you well know, I'm partial to indies.)

But wait, there's more! Christine is giving away a picture book critique and YOU can get in on the action! Head over to her Twitter account, and take a look at the pinned tweet for all the details. This giveaway will expire on Sunday, March 7, 2021, so get your booty movin'!  


(photo credit: Marlena Van Zandt)
Christine Van Zandt is a freelance editor, writer, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services. To uncover underwear facts, take a peek at her nonfiction picture book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (April 2021, becker&mayer! kids). She’s the editor behind the SCBWI’s “Ask an Editor” column (Kite Tales blog) and contributes interviews. She also reviews children’s books for Good Reads with Ronna.

To find or follow Christine: website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms (Spring '21), Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at


  1. Thanks, Dawn! It's nice to hang out with another funny writer. I'm looking forward to your upcoming (beautiful!) book, LUCY'S BLOOMS.

  2. Thanks, Christine. I love how books bring people together...