MORRIS MICKLEWHITE AND THE TANGERINE DRESS
by Christine Baldacchino; Illus. Isabelle Malenfant
In the picture book, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress*, a young boy enjoys dressing up in a tangerine dress because it reminds him of tigers, the sun and the colour of his mother’s hair. At school, Morris is teased (“We don’t want you to turn us into girls.” When Becky, a feisty girl in the class says ‘Boys don’t wear dresses,’ Morris answers saying “This boy does!”. This picture book was a contender for the Forest of Reading (Blue Spruce), the Marilyn Baillie picture book prize and the TD award for book of the year. Recently, I have shared this book with primary, junior and intermediate students and though I’ve read the book a number of times, I gain new insights by having book talks with the students. I feel that this book invites revisiting, rereading and rethinking.
NOTE: This picture book is a an ideal choice to have students – of all ages – consider gender identity and stereotyping to honour INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PINK (April 13, 2016)
A simple response activity that has prompted significant reflection is to have students complete sentence stem prompts to help them consider their feelings, connections and puzzlements after listening to the story. This activity can be done to as a preview to group discussion or as a follow up to book talk:
I remember / I am reminded of…
NOTE: A French edition of this book is available with the title:
Boris Brandamour et La Robe Orange.
The titles below address the issue of identity, bullying and non-gender conformity. In both picture book and novel formats, we meet characters who choose to be / celebrate who they are. These characters prefer to wear clothing not typically associated with boys and prefer to do ‘girl things’ thus helping readers understand that there are many ways to be boy. Each of the books recommended here encourages discussion of stereotypes, self-confidence and acceptance. Titles are listed in order of suggested grade level, thus demonstrating the spectrum of texts available to explore the issue of gender identity.
APRIL 13, 2016
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PINK is a day against homophobic, transphobic and all forms of bullying celebrating diversity by wearing PINK and challenging stereotypes.
Picture Books (ages 4+) (to be shared with all ages)
OLIVER BUTTON IS A SISSY by Tomie dePaola
How brave to publish a book with the word ‘sissy’ in the title. Tomie dePaolo presents Oliver’s story who doesn’t like to do what other boys are ‘supposed’ to do. Considering the question of “What are boys supposed to do?” this picture book (1979) as well as helping readers consider how best to confront (or ignore) those who tease us.
JACOB’S NEW DRESS by Sarah and Ian Hoffman: illus. Chris Case
Like Morris Micklewhite, Jacob, who loves wearing dresses, helps readers understand that there are many ways to be a boy.
PRINCESS SMARTYPANTS Babette Cole
Not all princesses enjoy wearing pretty dresses. Not all princess want to marry Prince Charming. Princess Smartypants is a humourous – and insightful – book into gender stereotypes with the central character being female.
MY PRINCESS BOY by Cheryl Kilodavis; Illus. Suzanne DeSimone
This is a book about acceptance told from a mother’s point of view. Recognizing that her four year old son Dyson is happy dressing up in dresses and anything that is pink or sparkly, Kilodavis embraces his uniqueness and invites readers to support children whoever they might be and however they want to be. (Will you laugh at him? Will you like him for who he is? )
WILLIAM’S DOLL by Charlotte Zolotow; Illus. William Pene Du Bois
Published in 1972, this picture book opened doors to examine gender identity with the heroic William, who more than anything, wants to play with dolls. He is teased (“Sissy, sissy,” chants the boy next door) but one day finds compassionate understanding from his grandmother.
Novels: Ages 9 to 12
GEORGE by Alex Gino
George, born a boy, knows she is a girl. She thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever until one day in school, the opportunity to play the part of the female spider in the class play of Charlotte’s Web. George lives by the credo “Be Who You Are”, but having others understand why we choose to be different is not always as easy as it seems.
BILL’S NEW FROCK by Anne Fine
Bill wakes up one day and discovers he has been turned into a girl. How will Bill adjust to the changes and wow will he cope in school? How will his school community cope with him?
THE BOY IN THE DRESS by David Walliams; Illus. Quentin Blake
From the back cover: “Dennis is different. Why was he different, I hear you ask? Swell, a small clue might be in the title of this book…” Like other male characters outlined in this list, Dennis believes that he can be whoever he wants to be. This amusing and heartwarming novel introduces young readers to a brave, resilient character. Moreover, this first book by Walliams invites readers to step into the world of David Walliams, master storyteller, funny man and very very very popular author. Coincidentally, Dennis first ‘dress up’ experience is with a sparkly orange dress.
Novels: Ages 12 to 15
TOTALLY JOE by James Howe
This book is a companion to Howe’s The Misfits and demonstrates what might happen to the Morris Micklewhites of the world who are strong to their convictions and must survive the challenges of middle school and find a way to fit in. The novel takes readers through a year in the life of Joe and chapters are presented with alphabetical titles (e.g., O is for OY; P is for Popular [not])!
ABSOLUTELY BRIGHTNESS by James Lecesne
Leonard Pilkey goes through life adorned in rainbow coloured sneakers – until the day he disappears. This book tells the story of an outcast teenager who seems tp carry on despite the prejudices that surround him but when tragedy strikes, those prejudices demand to be confronted and changed.
EVERY DAY by David Levithan
Every day “A” wakes up as a different person. On any day “A” can be a boy or a girl. This becomes complicated when “A” falls for the girl of his dreams.
THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson
When David Piper was eight years old, his teacher asked the students in his class to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up. David’s answer: “I want to be a girl.” In high school, David develops a friendship with Leo Denton and things get complicated when the school’s most beautiful girl enters the picture and challenges the relationships, identity – and secrets – of the male characters.
Nonfiction (adolescent/ adult)
RAISING RAINBOW: Adventures in raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron
This nonfiction selection is one family’s story of dealing with the challenges and distresses and joys of raising a ‘gender-creative’ son (i.e. gender variant, gender nonconforming).