Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Baldacchino, Christine (Writer) and Isabelle Malenfant (Illustrator). 2014. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. Toronto: Groundwood Books.

Four boys sit in a cardboard box "spaceship" while a boy in an orange dress stands next to them with head bowed, looking sad. Text reads: "On Tuesday, Eli, Henry and the other boys wouldn't let Morris ride on their spaceship unless he took the dress off. 'Astronauts don't wear dresses.'"

Morris Micklewhite loves to paint, play dress-up, and use his imagination to construct dazzling new worlds. His favorite outfit to dress up in is a tangerine dress that reminds him of tigers, his mother’s hair, and the sun. But the more he wears the dress, the more the other children make fun of him—the girls tell him that boys can’t wear dresses, and the boys tell him he can’t play astronauts with them in a dress. When he paints a stunning new planetscape and brings it to school, though, his peers are so impressed that they accept his dress in order to participate in space make-believe.

I feel lukewarm about this book. It’s not a bad book; it’s just not particularly good either. In terms of the topic, it’s wonderful to see gender nonconforming boys being accepted and celebrated. But readers can find this theme in other, better books (Jacob’s New Dress comes to mind). The writing is not especially strong; the first page is full of alliteration, but this style is immediately dropped and followed by a series of lists and then finally some plot-driven content. I found the mix of writing styles somewhat confusing, and also too text-heavy for most children reading picture books.

Regarding the art, I think children will really enjoy the vibrant colors, engaging textures, and complex landscapes. Animals aplenty march through the pages, and the children are diverse in terms of facial features and expressions as well as ethnicity. Only one thing was aesthetically off for me: the dress in question is represented with fuzzy edges, almost like an ink blot, while the rest of the artwork has strong lines. This artistic choice is clearly to bring more attention to the dress, but for me it just made the dress look unattractive.

Nevertheless, Morris Micklewhite was a Stonewall Honor Book for 2015, so either I’m alone in my apathy about this title, or there was a paucity of good LGBTQ juvenile literature in 2014. Go to the library and decide for yourself!

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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