A young schoolgirl learns to follow her own rules despite opposition and pressure in this picture book inspired by Mary Edward Walker.
In the early 1800s, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. Only “uncomfortable dresses…heavy-and-hot-and-hard-to-breathe-in dresses.” The expressive pink and blue drawings and patterns on ample white space show unhappy, immobile girls, while boys in pants cartwheel, jump, run, and play. But one day Mary has an idea. She wears pants. The townspeople are shocked! They heckle her, they throw things at her, they tell her not to wear boys’ clothes. In a touching scene, she sits with her father and asks if she should stop wearing pants. He says that people sometimes fear what they don’t understand, but he doesn’t tell her what to do. She decides to stick with her decision: “I’m wearing my clothes!” In the end, she’s a trendsetter. The constant association of skirts with frowns and pants with happiness oversimplifies both the historical moment and a modern-day environment in which skirts are the norm in many cultures. The sudden appearance of all the girls in pants (and smiles) at the end as well as multiracial faces among both hecklers and classmates make this more of a story than a biography. But the example of following one’s inner compass and bucking the status quo comes across loud and clear. A note on the historical Walker, a white woman who served as a surgeon during the Civil War, is appended.
An endearing delivery of a valuable message, to be taken with several grains of salt. (Picture book. 4-7)