Book #233: Jacob’s New Dress

Jacob's New Dress -- coverThe book feels a little bit like bibliotherapy, and sure it’s a single-message kind of book, but it’s well-written, too, with engaging illustrations. This isn’t some carelessly self-published piece that someone slapped together in their spare time. Nor is it sugar-coated for the masses.

Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. His parents are nervous about it.  At first, when Jacob asks if boys can wear dresses, his Mom replies, “Of course they can.”  But when Jacob asks to wear a regular dress to school, his mother has to think about it. Jacob fashions himself a “dress-thing” out of towels and wears it to school, but another boy, Christopher, yanks it from him.  “Mom,” Jacob whispers, “Can you help me make a real dress?”

Mom didn’t answer. The longer she didn’t answer
the less Jacob could breathe.

Jacob’s mom gets out the sewing machine (go, Mom!) and makes a dress for her son to wear to school.  “Well,” his father observes, “it’s not what I would wear, but you look great.”

At the end of the story, Jacob confronts the bully, Christopher.  He says, “…I made this dress, I’m proud of it, and I’m going to wear it!”

In Kirkus, the reviewer wrote, “Hopeful and affirming, but children familiar with bullying may find the conclusion too simple.”

It’s true, the book does end rather simply, with what this Kirkus reviewer claims is too “rosy” an ending, but I’m not sure the authors are so much going for verisimilitude as they are looking to create an affirmation of gender nonconformity. In the author’s note at the back of the book, Ian and Sarah Hoffman, parents of a “pink boy,” write, “Jacob’s New Dress was born of our commitment to help parents, families, teachers, and physicians stand behind all the differently gendered little people in their lives.”

I look forward to a time when there are more books for children with gender nonconforming characters that aren’t necessarily about gender nonconformity. Mainstream society isn’t quite there yet, but those dubious naysayers like Christopher are being tugged along. I’m glad Jacob’s New Dress is one of the stones along the path.  ABZ

Jacob's New Dress -- towel dress


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  1. I agree with your comments regarding the book’s ending. There’s no reason to introduce the complexity, and often futility, of trying to deal with bullying. It’s an important issue but leave the psycho-babble to grown-up books. This is plenty to give little people something to chew on.

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