Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Published: 1st March 2014Goodreads badge
Albert Whitman Company
Illustrator: Chris Case
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by boys who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

I may have cried a little at the start from the simple line of “There are all sorts of ways to be a boy” and also because the conversations between Jacob and his mum are wonderful, and the writing has hit an ideal balance of acceptance and practical reluctance.

The dialogue used is about support and comfortableness. Jacob’s mum and dad don’t dismiss his ideas, but they use language to work around it. His mum is supportive but apprehensive but finds a solution to Jacob’s desires, and his dad compliments Jacob’s outfit while acknowledging it wouldn’t be something he would wear he doesn’t shut down the idea.

It’s a powerful book in that it doesn’t have answers. It was written after the authors son was gender non-conforming and I think this story is a great expression of that. It doesn’t have answers either way whether Jacob wishes he were a girl, or whether he feels weird in his body – he just likes to wear dresses. It is a great story to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with kids exploring and trying new things. It does no harm to anyone and it gives them a chance to have fun.

There are no big conversations or topics raised, and the story doesn’t go into any further depth but it doesn’t need to. There’s a chance Jacob grows out of it and there is a chance he doesn’t, but that is not the point that is being made. It is about allowing Jacob to do something he is comfortable doing, showing him he has the support of his family, showing that there is nothing wrong with it, and it also shows that an easy conversation can be had that kids and adults alike can understand.

It isn’t all smooth sailing. We see Jacob’s apprehension, especially when it seems he isn’t going to get the support he wants and when he is dismissed by his peers, but there is a silver lining because we also see the acceptance around him and how he grows in himself and how his own pride outweighs the meanness of others.

Case’s illustrations are cartoony but realistic. The pictures are full page and coloured and the text is nestled amongst it as part of the story. The full pages allow for big scenes where entire classrooms and playgrounds can be shown which supports the narrative and shows off the scenes better than simpler or smaller images might. Case captures the emotion and drama in facial expressions and it enhances the fear and joy Jacob feels, as well as the feelings of those in his class.

I like this story because it is sweet and simple, and it shows how easy these kinds of situations can be. There are challenges as shown by the obnoxious child who clearly is repeating the things his parents say, but there are also wonderful moments where everyone else doesn’t see any problem with that and the narrative shapes these arguments in seamless and natural ways.

You can purchase Jacob’s New Dress via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

  Amazon | Amazon Aust

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