Hang around parenting social media sites for a while and you’re bound to notice one particular topic that gets people really riled – gender stereotyping. Marketing teams behind some brands of clothes, toys, books and even food, feel the need to distinguish between what’s created for boys and what’s for girls, despite the fact that the majority of parents prefer a unisex approach – after all, a ‘princess’ yogurt tastes the same as a ‘car’ yogurt, right?
An increasing number of products encourage girls to look beyond princesses and fairies (for example, the wonderful Eliza Boom books and Goldie Blox engineering kits). These are focused on vocational pursuits (which seems sensible given that a girl is more likely to become a scientist than a princess). But what is there for boys who don’t fit mainstream gender expectations?
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, written by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, is a tender story about a little boy, Morris, whose favourite thing is wearing a tangerine dress from his classroom’s dress-up box. Morris is ostracized by classmates who claim that “…dresses are for girls…” but with a little imagination and a lot of courage, Morris finds a way to make his classmates see things differently.
This sensitively told story works on multiple levels – it’s a terrific affirmation for kids who don’t fit the norm and more broadly, a well-told lesson for all children about acceptance. It’s also a fantastic reminder that as individuals, children take different paths and that some of those paths require more guts, imagination or determination than others.
I particularly like the fact that Morris’s sensitive personality is portrayed in many ways – he’s attuned to sensory experiences and likes the tangerine dress because of the swishing noise it makes when he walks and the crinkle when he sits down. For the most part he’s confident in his choices, from choosing apple juice at snack time to having painted fingernails.
Malenfant’s illustrations reflect Morris’s personality, balancing his vulnerability with his vibrancy by blending the imaginary with reality – Morris’s tangerine dress swirling to become a tiger, the sun and his mother’s hair is a beautiful example.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is suitable for children aged three years and over. Find it online at Book Depository, who deliver free to Australia.