Pink building toys for girls. Boys wearing nail polish. Gender nonconformity's a hot topic these days. MomSpeaker Jean Ladden's found a picture book that takes the theme on in a gentle, empathetic way. Here's her review.
By Sarah & Ian Hoffman with illustrations by Chris Case
Age: 3-5 years
Genre: picture book
The title of this book caught my attention when I saw it on the shelf at the library. I used to teach 2- to 3-year-olds, and the boys in my class loved wearing dresses for make-believe time. I’m not sure how their parents felt about it, but it’s all part of exploring their world. When I saw Jacob’s New Dress, I thought, "Ooo, a picture book about boys who like to dress like girls!" So I read the story and found a unique and relevant tale that takes a nurturing and nonjudgmental look at a boy who likes to wear dresses.
Jacob is a preschool boy who loves to play dress-up with his friends. Though he could dress up as anything, including in the more traditional boy costumes of a dragon, firefighter or cowboy, he chooses a “sparkly pink dress” and a crown. His classmate, Christopher, has a problem with this and asks Jacob, “Why do you always wear the girl clothes?” Luckily for Jacob, he has an understanding teacher, Ms. Wilson, who steps in and says Jacob can use his imagination to dress up however he wants. When Jacob gets home, he talks to his mom and dad about wearing dresses. The next day Jacob creates a dress for himself out of a towel and belt, and his mother reluctantly lets him wear it to school. But Jacob gets teased again. When he tries to talk to his mom about it, he feels like he can’t breathe waiting to see what she will say. His mom tells him, “There are all sorts of ways to be a boy,” and then helps him make his own real dress to wear whenever he wants.
Jacob’s New Dress tackles the issue of gender nonconformity in a realistic way. The authors don’t shy away from the fact that Jacob gets teased for his choices, but they surround him with adults who are able to keep an open mind and be supportive. The authors of the book have their own gender-nonconforming son, Sam, and their expertise in the subject matter shines through and feels real. Jacob’s New Dress shares an important story that many children could probably relate to, whether they dress up sometimes just for fun or every day. This book would be well-suited to being read in a classroom setting where the teacher could talk to the children about the issues raised in it.
Bucks County mom Jean Ladden spends way more time reading children's books than adult books, and that's just the way she likes it. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Chatham University and is currently raising a 2-year-old, working part-time at a neighborhood library and freelance writing. She loves to share new books as well as old via her blog, Jean's Book Reviews.