We have talked a great deal in bookclub and in children’s lit circles in general that we want to, and must, include greater diversity in our collections. The catchcry “We Need Diverse Books” has certainly gained momentum in the United States and in Australia (see http://weneeddiversebooks.org/). With this in mind, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress written by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, is a wonderful addition to library collections. Some members said they had an emotional response to this picture book.
What we loved about this book was that it makes no judgements about Morris. Enjoying wearing the dress is just one facet of Morris’ personality and attributes. At school he likes to wear the tangerine dress (it reminds him of his mother’s hair) but he also likes to sing, paint and do puzzles, although the dress up centre is his favourite part. Many of the members shared their experiences of teaching little boys just like Morris who gravitated to the dress up centres in their classrooms and were particularly entranced with wearing the high heels (especially the ones that made a lot of noise when walking on the tiles). We related to the beautiful language of the text:
Morris swish, swish, swished.
The tangerine dress crinkle, crinkle, crinkled.
His shoes click, click, clicked.
Morris felt wonderful.
We talked about the gender expectations that are instilled in the young from an early age and this led to a discussion about the way we treat boys. There has been a lot of recent emphasis on providing gender neutral clothing and toys to include girls. As we noted any child will tell you now, “There’s no such thing as a boy colour or a girl colour – they are just colours.” Companies are beginning to respond to requests for different choices of clothing for girls but we raised the question do we encourage boys to transcend our gendered stereotypes? We read some of the text from an article by Erika Trafton (http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/08/07/gorgeous/) and discussed her quote:
This culture wants little boys to dream only of baseball, trucks, and trains. This culture has no room for little boys who want to be gorgeous.
We all felt disturbed by the moment in the text when Morris feels he is not accepted by the others and talked about the power of peer rejection. The physical reality of social pain was discussed and we read the following quote and related it to the anxiety and dread that some children experience about attending school:
When I think of the work on social pain, and showing that some of the same neural regions that are involved in physical pain are involved in social pain, that can be very validating for people. For anyone who’s felt the pain of losing somebody or who’s felt the hurt feelings that come from being ostracized or bullied, there’s something very validating in seeing this scientific work that shows it’s not just in our head. It is in our head because it’s in our brain. It’s not just in our head, there is something biological going on that’s interpreting the pain of social rejection as something that really is a painful experience.
We felt there was so much to recommend about this book and issues included: inclusion, gender stereotyping, kindness, acceptance, societal expectations, bullying and imagination. It was commented that some parents may object to a book like this but we generally felt that this was why we need to have books like this, so that in the future we have a society where it is inconceivable to think that anyone would be excluded because of these reasons.