Honestly, the trailer for Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino might do the book more justice than anything I can say about it.
I picked up a copy of this delightful picture book from Groundwood Books at ALA, and as I read it, standing in front of Groundwood’s booth, tears pricked my eyes.
A lot of people will say this is a great book for introducing transgender issues to young children or for helping transgender children embrace themselves.
That’s all true.
But honestly, I don’t think this book is about transgender children or transgender issues. It’s about the fact that when children are young, they are free from social norms and social rules, those horrid things that govern our perceptions of masculinity and femininity. Little girls wear dresses because we put them in dresses. Little boys wear pants because we put them in pants. Little girls wear pink because we put them in pink. Little boys wear blue because we put them in blue. We create rules and expectations before they’re old enough to have a choice and we label them “boy” and “girl” and then we judge people as to how well they meet that standard.
Children can (and should) love and wear any color they want. (My almost four year old son loves pink, it’s his favorite color, and angry mama will come forth if I ever hear someone tell him, “Pink’s only for girls!”)
Children can (and should) love sparkly things.
They can (and should) play dress up.
They can (and should) be imaginative and creative and exploratory.
Little girls can have dirty fingernails because they’re playing in the mud.
Little boys can paint their fingernails.
Children are exploring the world. Let them explore.
Morris Micklewhite wants to wear a tangerine dress because it reminds him of the color of his mother’s hair, and tigers, and sunsets. We don’t know who Morris is going to be when he grows up. Maybe he’ll be gay. Maybe he’ll be straight. Maybe he’ll be trans. It doesn’t matter.
Morris has figured out the important thing in life and that is to be himself, to love what he loves, even when other kids try to dictate to him what he can and can’t do. And in the process of being himself, Morris teaches other kids the most important lesson of all, that “it didn’t matter if astronauts wore dresses or not. The best astronauts were the ones who knew where all the good adventures were hiding.”