10,000 Dresses is a great book for opening up a discussion of gender identity and inclusion.
Bailey is a boy who dreams of fantastic dresses every night. When trying to share these images with family members, Bailey is shunned with the refrain: “Bailey, what are you talking about? You’re a boy. Boys don’t wear dresses!” The story line is set up in the style of a classic folk tale with three failed attempts leading to final success—in the form of a girl named Laurel who is a seamstress in need of inspiration. Children rejoice at the anticipated conclusion of Bailey’s finally being recognized for who she really is.
The cumulative effect of many experiences of being misunderstood is conveyed in the repetition of the negative response to Bailey’s desires. The diminutive size of Bailey in scenes with family members shows her sense of alienation on a visceral level. I don’t care for the aesthetic of the artwork in the book, and I wondered if the two-dimensional cartoon-like Bailey would dissuade children from seeing the realism in the story line. But kids who talk to stuffed animals can relate to a spike haired paper cut-out just fine, it turns out. They respond just the way you’d hope children of the twenty-first century would.