10,000 Dresses

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 10, 2008

10,000 Dresses

The first children's book to address transgender issues is set for release on November 15. The good news is that it's an instant classic.

Marcus Ewert wrote, and Rex Ray illustrated, the upbeat, fanciful 10,000 Dresses, a fearless (and fabulous) tale of how Bailey finds her bliss.

Bailey is a little girl who dreams every night about fantastic sartorial creations: in one dream, she dons a dress made all of prismatic crystals; in another, it's a dress made of windows that look out over exotic settings such as the pyramid of Egypt and the Great Wall of China.

These are dresses of the imagination, but Bailey yearns to make them real. When she approaches her parents and older brother for help in creating beautiful dresses in real life, she's reproached: "Boys don't wear dresses," Bailey is told.

And that's the problem. It's not that others can't see the same amazing dresses that Bailey can: it's that others can't see that Bailey, though born in the body of a little boy, is actually a little girl.

But all outer appearances notwithstanding, Bailey knows who she is, and she knows what she wants. She won't be sidetracked from her heart's desire, which is to make gorgeous clothing. And she won't be told by others who she really is.

Bailey is a strong personality, without being confrontational or strident. When confronted by ignorance, she simply moves past it. She's not out to argue with anybody--that's the beauty of the book. Bailey simply wants to be true to herself and her vision.

Given the reaction that some parents have had to books about same-sex parents (even a book about two male penguins adopting and hatching an egg has raised hackles; And Tango Makes Three has been the #1 most-challenged book for two years running, according to the American Library Association), 10,000 Dresses is sure to hit the top spot on various lists, both friendly and hostile to the book, in short order.

That's a shame, really, because the book doesn't have to be freighted with political baggage. Indeed, that baggage belongs to adults: this is a book for kids, a book that encourages them not to defy gender conventions, but simply to have the courage of their own convictions--those convictions having to do with who they are and what they want in life.

If children were the property of their parents, attempts to mold them, in detail, into what parents want would be one thing; but children are their own individuals. They are not property, they are charges of the adults in their lives, and as much as they need guidance, they also need respect. If there's one classic fairy tale 10,000 Dresses brings to mind, it's The Ugly Duckling, the story of a duckling who spends his juvenile years being taunted for looking different than the others. When he reaches maturity, however, his beauty is stunning: it seems that he was never a duck at all, but rather, a swan.

Ewert's story springs from a source of sympathy and respect for all the "ugly ducklings" of the world, and Bailey's dream of creating 10,000 unique and beautiful dresses is nothing less than a child's urge to claim for herself her own unique and gorgeous identity.

Rex Ray's illustrations are colorful, whimsical works that look like paper cutouts, layered and shaded with meticulous skill. Bailey and the others in the book almost look like paper dolls begging to be clad in those dazzling dresses; Ray's approach underscores the theme of the external and the internal and the need to make them harmonize.

Publisher: Seven Stories. Publication Date: November 15, 2008. Pages: 32. Price: $14.95. Format: Hardcover Original. ISBN 978-1-58322-850-0

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.