The book is a good introduction to gender non-conformity for elementary age students.
Jacob’s New Dress
by Sarah and Ian Hoffman; illustrated by Chris Case
Albert Whitman & Co., Chicago, 2014
Picture book, fiction, gender identity
Description: 32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.7
Lexile measure: 400
4 out of 5 stars
According to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/solgbt_webinar_transition_garofalo.pdf), “ncreasing numbers of gender non-conforming youth are being referred for care” and primary care specialists are referring them for care at younger ages that ever before. For teachers and librarians, this means that we must find ways to introduce the idea of gender non-conformity to children at the elementary school level.
Jacob’s New Dress is written by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, the parents of a gender non-conforming son. In the author’s note at the back of the book they state that “Jacob’s New Dress was born of our commitment to help parents, families, teachers, and physicians stand behind all the differently gendered little people in their lives.”
Jacob is a young boy who loves to play dress-up, but when he wants to dress up as a princess, who encounters a boy who tells him that boys shouldn’t wear girl clothes. Jacob’s parents are okay when he wears dresses at home, but are reluctant to let him wear dresses to school. They realize that he is unhappy, and his mother helps him make a dress he can wear outside the house. His dad provides realistic support by stating, “Well, it’s not what I would wear, but you look great.”
Jacob gets made fun of when he wears his new dress to school, but he feels empowered by wearing a garment that he made and that expresses who he is inside, and he stands up to his bullies. This was the only part of the book that didn’t feel genuine. I was disappointed that as he is being bullied, no other friends stand beside him and help defend him. I find it fairly unrealistic to believe that as the victim, he alone can stand up to a group of bullies.
Overall, the book is a good introduction to gender non-conformity for elementary age students. The teacher in the story delivers a good message — “I think Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in.” Sometimes what people feel comfortable wearing does not conform to traditional dress in our society, but differences are not bad.