Bright paper collage illustrations serve as a backdrop to Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT?, the tale of a boy who likes to wear pink, sparkles and dresses to school. The story hinges on the relationship between Roland and two little girls at the bus stop who try unsuccessfully to educate him about the “color rules 4 boys.”
Roland blatantly violates these rules on a daily basis. Instead of “blues, browns and DARK purple,” Roland wears violet-striped shoes, a butterfly on his “manly green” shirt, and a sparkly blue barrette in his hair. Upset over being teased, he goes home and spends time “exploring his feelings” with his mommy.
The next day, Roland decides that he will just be himself, and approaches the kids at the bus stop with a preachy lecture, informing them “I’m so much more than what colors or clothes I choose, and if you judge me on just that I’ve got some sad news: You’re the one who misses out.” Duly chastised, Roland’s friends cheerily decide that “To lose you over pink would be such a waste. Besides, you really have fabulous taste.”
I have to admit that I found this book a bit irritating. The illustrations are good but the story is overtly didactic, and this strong “teach you a lesson” vibe turned me off. Children’s books that eschew nuance in place of complexity are usually not ones that we read over and over again in my family, and Roland Humphrey certainly falls into that category. The singsong tone of the story didn’t help matters, since it tended to amplify the simplistic approach to the lived experiences of gender non-conforming children.
All of that said, if you are parenting a child who is gender non-conforming, this book would certainly serve its purpose. And although my son, who is almost six, found this book boring, I did find him later studying the list of color rules, though I’m not sure to what end.
Recommendation: ages 4-8
Reviewer: Jill Moffett