Title: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
Author: Christine Baldacchino
Illustrator: Isabelle Malenfant
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Year of publication: 2014
A Canadian picture book, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress deals with non-traditional gender roles and bullying in a very casual manner. Morris is a creative, imaginative kindergartner who loves his mother Moira, his cat Moo, and his tangerine dress. The other kids laugh at Morris; the boys won’t let him in their spaceship (“Astronauts don’t wear dresses!”) and the girls tell him that “Dresses are for girls!” Their jarring statements upset Morris and give him a tummy ache. After spending some time with his mom and his cat, Morris has a dream about a space safari. He paints a picture of his dream and returns to school, tangerine dress in hand, and a rediscovered confidence. At school Morris makes his own spaceship and displays his painting. When the other boys see that Morris’ space safari includes elephants and tigers they no longer care about his tangerine dress and want to be part of his adventure.
Morris is a dynamic and resilient protagonist who thinks outside the box. The same characteristic that makes him a target of ridicule also makes him the ultimate space explorer whose imagination is able to take his classmates on new adventures. This book is important because it explains that Morris’ gender expression is okay and it’s only one small part of him as a person. Morris isn’t defined by his dress, it’s just one piece of the Morris puzzle! The book is charming and not overly complex. It doesn’t delve deep into sexuality or gender identity, it simply shows, “Hey, you’re a little different and that’s okay!”
Malenfant’s beautiful watercolor, charcoal, and pastel illustrations provide appealing texture and movement. The contrast of the bright tangerine dress, depicted with smudged pastels, perfectly expresses the “swish, swish” and “crinkle, crinkle” movement described by Baldacchino. The muted watercolor and dull charcoal backgrounds add depth to Morris’ tangerine hair and tangerine dress making him stand out in a sea of watercolor children.