Sunday, July 11, 2010

10,000 Dresses, by Marcus Ewert

Title:  10,000 Dresses
Author:  Marcus Ewert
Illustrator:  Rex Ray
Publisher:  Seven Stories
Pages:  28
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Grade Level:  1st-3rd

Plot Summary:  
Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows. . . . Unfortunately, when Bailey's awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. Quite the contrary. "You're a BOY!" Mother and Father tell Bailey. "You shouldn't be thinking about dresses at all." Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is touched and inspired by Bailey's imagination and courage. In friendship, the two of them begin making dresses together. And Bailey's dreams come true!

It is hard to find books with sympathetic transgender characters period, much less picture books.  That makes 10,000 Dresses a rare thing-a children's book that deals with trangenderism in a thoughtful and touching way, highlighting the misunderstandings that often go along with being transgendered in a way that younger children could understand, while showing that acceptance is the true hallmark of friendship. 

Ewert does a great job creating the tension between who Baily feels like on the inside and what people perceive her to be on the outside.  When Bailey thinks about herself, she thinks about the girl she believes she was meant to be.  When her family sees her, they see the boy she was biologically born.  When Baily tries to express how she feels to her family, the are unable to see past the biological boy to the girl inside.  Only her friend Laurel is able to see past the biology to who Bailey believes she is in her soul.

The illustrations are so cute, and Ray did not shy away from the biological reality that was Bailey's outer body.  The illustrations of Bailey in a dress very clearly look like a boy in a dress, not some miniature drag queen.  Her mother, father, and brother in the book are shown with their faces turned away, as though refusing to see Bailey as she truly is.  The only other face we see is her friend Laurel, who tells Bailey, "You're the coolest girl I ever met".  The final message of the book is one of hope and acceptance.

Teaching Resources: 
You can probably imagine that there are not exactly unit plans for this book waiting out there in cyberspace to be found.  The topic of this book is just too controversial for most schools or teachers to handle.  However, if you have smaller children and want them to be accepting of everyone, regardless of their gender expression, this is a great read aloud.  It would be a good way to start a discussion of transgenderism with older children as well, since it is so accessible.

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