Mary Wears What She Wants (Keith Negley)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, a picture book reimagining of the childhood of trailblazer Mary Edwards Walker.

Long ago, it was illegal for girls to wear pants. Women and girls could only wear dresses, which were cumbersome, uncomfortable, and restrictive. Little Mary thinks this is unfair, so she makes a decision: she will wear pants instead of her bulky dress. At first, her new wardrobe is liberating – she plays and cartwheels with joy. That is until the local townspeople see her… then the ugliness begins. Adults and children alike heckle Mary, pelt her with fruit, and tell her to stop wearing “boys’ clothes”. Hurt, Mary confers with her father, who explains that people are often afraid of change. Mary asks if she should wear a dress again, but her father encourages her to make her own decision. After some thought, Mary opts to continue wearing the clothes that make her happy – not “boys’ clothes”, but HER clothes.

Wonderful. While the story itself is more inspired by Walker than literal account, it simplifies a message that speaks to both the past, present, and future of gendered clothing. Especially nice is the inclusion of Mary’s father as a male advocate, and the show of solidarity by her female classmates at the end. Equally appreciated is the short but extremely informative backmatter biography of Walker, who was one of the first female surgeons in the United States and remains the only woman to have ever won a Congressional Medal of Honor. The cartoonish drawings and simple color palette are nicely balanced, creating a lot of emotion while keeping the heavier aspects light. The length is fine, JJ liked it, and it was a delight start to finish – Baby Bookworm approved.

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