Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to parents who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).
Bailey (a white girl of maybe 5-8 years old) dreams of a staircase of 10,000 beautiful dresses, each unusual and unique. She tells her mother, then father, then brother about her dreams, and asks each in turn to help her get one of the dresses she falls in love with, but each time she is rebuffed, because they say she’s a boy and “boys don’t wear dresses.” Discouraged, she runs away (“all the way to the end of the block”), and meets an older girl, Laurel, who is trying to sew dresses, but is disappointed because they each come out the same. Bailey shares one of her ideas with Laurel, and they make two dresses out of mirrors. Laurel declares that Bailey is “the coolest girl I ever met”, and asks Bailey if she can come up with any more dress ideas; Bailey assures her she “can dream up 10,000 dresses!”
The intended audience for 10,000 Dresses is actually a little unclear to me; obviously transgender girls (those who like dresses, anyway) would appreciate seeing themselves mirrored in print, as Bailey and Laurel are mirrored in the dresses they make for themselves. But Bailey’s family are quite rude, even cruel (especially her brother, who declares her dreams of dresses “Gross!” and threatens her with violence — and for this reason might be unsuitable for survivors of abuse); therefore it doesn’t seem the type of book caring cis parents would buy for their daughter. That said, it serves as a simple, engaging introduction to being trans and the discrimination and misunderstanding transgender children (especially trans girls) can face, and that’s a message children both cis and trans (and as-yet-unknown) could do with hearing.
Also, Bailey and her family are white (which while not a problem by itself, is part of a pattern of the “default human” being white, straight, cis, etc, and only varying from that in one aspect at a time), and thus might be off-putting to children of color — especially trans girls of color, who are looking for role models for themselves.
The publisher suggests the book for 4-8 year olds, but I would suggest it for any child ready to move on from board books.
Changes in the telling
There is little we change or add when we read this out loud, but it is more reinforcing of gender norms than I’m entirely comfortable with; perhaps in an effort to make the message simple and clear for young children, it conflates inherent gender (that Bailey is a girl, despite her assignment at birth as “boy”) with a desire for a particular style of gender expression (wanting to wear dresses). Perhaps most girls — no more so trans girls than cis girls or vice versa — enjoy “girly” things, such as dresses, but I am always concerned when such desires are presented as absolutes: that Bailey wants to wear a dress because she is a girl, and she is a girl because she wants to wear dresses.
Further, although the book does an excellent job of reinforcing the message of Bailey’s girlhood despite her family’s protestations to the contrary, the assertion that “boys don’t wear dresses” goes unchallenged. Thus, in reading it to the Boychick, we usually add something like “Which is wrong, because boys can wear dresses too!” We also point out how cruel it is that they yell at Bailey when they say she doesn’t feel like a boy.
On the Bookshelf Because
There’s not a lot to contrast 10,000 Dresses to; this is the only picture book I have encountered explicitly about (and supportive of) a transgender child, and for that alone I would celebrate it. But further, it tells its message well, unwavering in referring to Bailey as a girl and using the appropriate pronouns (except in direct quotes from her family), and communicating what many adults make into an unnecessarily complex concept in simple, appropriate language, as when Bailey says “But I don’t feel like a boy.”
But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take
The first time we tried reading 10,000 Dresses (in the bookstore, along with a dozen other offerings), the Boychick didn’t want to finish listening to it; after we brought it home, however, he has been happy to read it and often requests it. I think one of the biggest barriers he had to it was simply that he’s unfamiliar with the concept of a “dress”, since no one he knows (including me) regularly (or, uh, ever) wears them. The pictures and cadence and repetition of the story draw him in, however, despite that initial barrier.
Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?
Buy it. For all its simplicity and faults, as (one of?) the only books about a transgender girl, and a well written and Boychick-approved one at that, it’s quite worth getting for your own bookshelf.
Have you read 10,000 Dresses? What do you think, and what do your kids think? Are there other books with similar messages you prefer? Are there any other books supportive of transgender children you know of?
Warning: Although I’ve included links to the book listing on Amazon (any purchases through which will earn me some small percentage of the sale), I would put a strong trigger warning on that link, especially the reviews, due to much mis-gendering and cissexist language.