CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 29. . . .March 28, 2014
Morris Micklewhite is an imaginative young boy who enjoys wearing the tangerine dress in the dress-up center at his school. He likes the dress for aesthetic and tactile reasons: “Morris likes the color of the dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair. He likes the noises the dress makes – swish, swish, swish when he walks and crinkle, crinkle, crinkle when he sits down.” The other children in his class tease Morris for wearing a dress. They refuse to play with him. Morris has an artistic epiphany while home ill, and he uses his creative strengths at school to take the other boys on an imaginative journey to another planet filled with space tigers and space elephants. The other children then understand that “it didn’t matter if astronauts wore dresses or not. The best astronauts were the ones who knew where all the good adventures were hiding.”
Baldacchino tells Morris’ story in unsentimental language, depicting both the cruelty and the joy of childhood interactions. Apart from hints of alliteration throughout (Morris’ mother is called Moira and the cat is Moo) the language is quite plain and unobtrusive. The main strength of this book is the illustrations. Malenfant is an experienced picture book illustrator with a distinctively Quebeçois aesthetic. Her charcoal, watercolour, pastel and Photoshop illustrations add liveliness to Baldacchino’s occasionally wordy text. My favourite pages feature Morris’ imaginings: the tangerine dress turning into a tiger as it swirls, the alien planet covered in strange trees and animals. Malenfant depicts the tangerine dress as an fuzzy orange triangular shape, which is evocative of its symbolic and imaginative importance in the story, and also of its ability to change meaning from a treasure to a curse and back again.
This book avoids some of the common problems of the “Princess boy” books in that it focuses on the solution, rather than the problem of bullying, and in that the solution comes from the child, rather than from adults. The book is obviously message driven, but not overly didactic. These factors and the buoyant illustrations make it a worthwhile addition to a classroom collection or library.
Lian Beveridge is an independent scholar based in Vancouver, BC. Her primary research interests are children’s literature (especially picturebooks) and queer theory.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.