My gender conforming, princess imitating 4-year-old cis-girl who, like most 4-year-olds, has pretty conservative views about gender roles was drawn to the 10,000 Dresses book cover, which features the protagonist in a crystal blue, sparkly formal gown. I was focused on other writing jobs but I finally took a break when my daughter begged me repeatedly to read the book to her and after we finished it, she asked me to read it another two times which is distinctive in our reading this week. She was very interested in all the dresses that Bailey, the protagonist dreamed up and surprised me when she approved of Bailey wearing dresses even after Bailey’s family called her a boy. The narrative refers to the protagonist, Bailey with the pronoun “her”. However, in dialogue between Bailey and her family members, it comes out that Bailey is a biological male who doesn’t feel like a “boy”. My four-year-old understood feeling but not why we were referring to the character as both “her” and a boy. It was very easy for my daughter to understand that it wasn’t nice for the parents to tell Bailey “don’t mention dresses again!” and she thought the brother who threatened to kick Bailey was ‘really mean’
This story is as depthful as it is simple and straightforward. Bailey starts out with a dream of 10,000 dresses and excitedly shares her dream of wearing each one with different members of her family, asking them to buy her a dress like the one in her dream. When her brother threatens to kick her because it’s “gross for boys to wear dresses, Bailey runs away and befriends a fashion designing older girl with whom Bailey makes dresses. While I have read the other gender non-conforming classics to my daughter, which are all about biological boys wearing dresses (hint authors and publishers: please write and publish about gender non-conforming bio-girls soon), this is the first one that gained my daughter’s acceptance of a physiological boy wearing dresses. Maybe that’s because my daughter is older now, maybe it’s because I’ve already read three others to her, maybe it’s because this is the first of all these books to be daring enough to actually have the protagonist declare their trans identity. In the other books, the biological boys are fighting to be accepted for wearing traditionally feminine clothes with no mention of them feeling trans identified, whereas in response to her family members telling her that “Boys don’t wear dresses”, Bailey responds with, “But I don’t feel like a boy.” While I think that we need the books that say it’s okay for a cis-boy to wear dresses, barrettes, and pink (My Princess Boy, Jacob’s New Dress, Roland Humphrey is Wearing a What?), hooray for 10,000 Dresses making the full commitment to a character who identifies as trans. The family rejection that Bailey endures is painful but Bailey’s self-acceptance and choice to seek an ally instead of attempting to conform to the intolerant family is a powerful move that leads to a poignant conclusion.
While the gender issue is the primary theme, the sub theme concerned with the creative process–following the story of Bailey’s creative visions and ideas being developed into wearable art–is incredibly valuable; the story ends on the note of creative ingenuity and compromise, allowing two of Bailey’s dress ideas to manifest in one dress. This is a profoundly affirming book for trans or gender non-conforming children and powerful enough to open the minds and hearts of conservative, gender conforming children towards acceptance.
Considering the things my daughter didn’t understand like those mentioned above and what the word “gross” means, I’d say that this is appropriate for cis children 6 and older, while trans and gender non-conforming children should have this book read to them with a parent’s explanation of that which they don’t understand, as early as they have trans feelings. This is one of my new favorite books if only because it is a non-Disney princess, diversity book that my daughter asks to have read to her over and over again.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended. 6+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda