Monday, April 30, 2012


McCarthy, Meghan. Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. ISBN:978-1-4169-7970-8. $15.99 US. Ages 4-8. 

Bubblegum really doesn't take up much thought, unless you're trying to decide what flavor to grab at the check-out line. There is, however, a lot more to bubblegum than a person might think, and author and illustrator Meghan McCarthey uses Pop! The Invention of Bubblegum to describe gum's development through the centuries and how it became the multi-hued, bubble-blowing, sticky-sweet thing we chew today.

The story begins in the 1920s with the true-life, central figure Walter Diemer who works as an accountant in the Fleer family's factory. The factory produces lots of gum and candy, but the gum isn't like it is today. The Fleer family decides they want to make their product different from any other type of gum: They wanted it to make bubbles. This though, is no easy process, and Walter watches as scientist after scientist goes by his office to work on the secret project. Walter isn't a scientist, but he is very curious. One day, when Walter's boss asks him to mind a kettle containing a gum experiment, Walter can’t just watch. Soon he starts adding ingredients but nothing really changes.

Eventually, Walter's boss gives up on making bubble gum, but Walter doesn’t stop. Months after everyone else has given up, one of Walter's experiments starts bubbling. There is only one problem, the gum quickly turns hard and is a less than appealing, oozy brown color. Even more months go by until Walter can figure out a recipe that stays soft, but he succeeds, but the gum is still an unappetizing brown. Walter grabs the nearest dye and pours it in—it’s pink.

The first batch produced is cut into five pieces and delivered to a small store nearby. And, before long, gum is sold in stores across the country; according to Walter Diemer, the little pink cubes of gum, named Dubble Bubble, are what saves the company. While Walter never makes a lot of money off of his invention, he is promoted to vice president of the Fleer family business, a position he keeps until he retires.

Not only does McCarthy tell the recent history of bubblegum, she also works in the historical aspects of bubblegum, or, up until that point, plain old gum. While Walter wonders what is going on with the experiments, McCarthy takes the opportunity to tell how ancient Greeks chewed sap from the mastic tree (think “to masticate”) and American Indians introduced spruce tree resin. Also of interest are the facts about Walter Diemer and gum that fill the last two pages of the book. For instance, I never knew that college-educated women in their thirties, not children, chew the most gum! Or that chewing gum non-stop for a full year will make you lose eleven pounds!

Related Links:
Author's Web Page
Activities for Pop! The Invention of Bubblegum

Stephanie Ashley

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