In Jacob’s New Dress the protagonist shares his desire to wear a dress with his parents. They take a little convincing but are quite supportive; in fact, Jacob’s mom helps him sew a dress. Jacob does deal with bullying when he wears his new dress to school, but his best friend Sophie, a supportive girl who reappears in Jacob’s Room to Choose, stands up for him.
In Jacob’s Room to Choose both Sophie and Jacob present nonbinary gender expressions. The brown-skinned curly haired Sophie prefers plaid shirts and khakis to dresses, which pale-skinned wavy-haired Jacob likes best. The two seem confident with their gender presentations until its time to go to the bathroom. In the bathroom they’re bullied by peers who tell them they don’t belong in the gender segregated spaces.
When their teacher finds out about the bullying she prompts the class to think more critically about gender expression, especially binary gender expression, which leads them to realize lots of children do gender differently. The class works together to desegregate the school bathrooms, so everyone is comfortable.
Although transgender and nonbinary children’s use of public bathrooms has made its way into the news, this is the first children’s picture book I’ve seen that explores the issue. It does so in an accessible, age-appropriate way that empowers children to be change makers in their schools!
This is a wonderful book to share with children 4+ and will surely prompt productive discussions about gender, bullying, advocacy, and activism.
This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!