A story about gender identity and the courage to be different

Christine Baldacchio, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. Pictures by Isabelle Malenfant

Published by Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 2014, 32p

 

Gender identity is so much more than biological sex. As parents we all want our children to grow up healthy and happy and we try so hard to be ourselves creative in order to make them achieve knowledge and life experience. What we sometimes forget is that the stereotypes society has created can affect our children’s natural development. Why are cars and hammers and balls only for boys and why do girls have to wear so much pink?  Why do we expect girls to be more passive while boys can take up the so called masculine activities?

Children have a very natural and honest way to express their preferences. Although we have so many expectations as parents we should learn to accept and support their interests and most of all we should become able to respect children as individual entities.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is magic and tells the story of a little boy who has a great imagination. Morris lives with his mother Moira and their cat Moo. He loves school because he likes to paint, do puzzles and sing but most of all he likes the dress up center and the tangerine dress.

tangerine

Morris likes the color of the dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair.

But children at school make fun of Morris and the boys wouldn’t let him ride on their spaceship because Astronauts don’t wear dresses.

bullying2

bullying

With all the bullying and rejection Morris begins to feel physically ill so he spends a day at home reading books about elephants and playing with his cat. His mother is supportive and comforts him as much as she can.

elephants

Morris begins to feel better and has a beautiful dream about a space safari where he sees tigers and blue elephants. The next day he paints everything, including himself wearing his tangerine dress. Going back to school Morris builds his own spaceship and welcomes his classmates who are thrilled to explore Morris’ planet and seem to have learned to respect and accept him.

happy

Morris Micklewhite is a complex character. Not only he has a fabulous imagination and he is interested in art but he has a strong personality and despite prejudice he is willing to fight for his gender choices and his dreams. He has difficulties and the social rejection causes him physical and psychical suffering but he brings the tangerine dress to life. It is heart-breaking seeing Morris at the end of a table eating alone but the boy has the confidence and the joyfulness to get over all the comments and surpass vulnerability.

The tangerine dress is a symbol of the slow process through which children can change stereotypes. The little boy loves the color of the dress and the noises it makes. He needs to be given the opportunity to have options and choices. He is not wearing the dress to provoke a reaction but for his own delight. The dress would define his individuality.

The illustrations are precious.

On YouTube there is an interview with the author explaining how her book was inspired by a real boy:

 

You can find the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=wordstoworlds

These excerpts are taken from Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, text copyright © 2014 by Christine Baldacchino, illustrations copyright © 2014 by Isabelle Malenfant. Reproduced with permission from Groundwood Books, Toronto. www.groundwoodbooks.com 
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