Author: Eileen Kiernan-Johnson
Illustrator: Katrina Revenaugh
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Huntley Rahara Press
Number of pages: 40
Recommended age: 3 to 8
Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Roland Humphrey is Wearing a What? tells the story of a little boy who just happens to love pinks and purples and loves wearing barrettes in his hair as well as other stereotypically “girlie” things. When he shows up to school one day wearing a pink-striped shirt, his friends, Ella and Lucy, teach Roland all about the “color rules” – – which colors are acceptable for boys and which colors (and patterns and accessories) are not allowed. Roland struggles between following these rules and being true to himself until he finally decides that he should be able to wear what he wants.
My Thoughts: I applaud the author and illustrator for writing and publishing this rhyming picture book which tackles the issue of gender norms and stereotypes head-on. Remember the controversy a few years ago about the little boy who dressed up as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for a preschool Halloween party? That poor Mom received negative reactions from the PARENTS (not the children) for letting her son dress up as a girl … for Halloween! I remember feeling completely outraged by this story. And yet, there still exists this pressure to prevent boys from acting or being perceived as “girlie”. I can attest to this after a little girl told my son that “boys don’t wear nail polish” at his preschool. My son was absolutely devastated and embarrassed. Grrrr…
Roland Humphrey represents every boy (or even girl) who must conform to gender expectations placed on them simply because of their biological sex. (Sorry, the psychologist in me is coming out here!) For example, as described in the book, boys are not allowed to wear certain colors (but girls can wear whatever colors they wish); boys are allowed to play team sports such as hockey, basketball, and baseball, but not ballet (girls can play whatever sports they like … um… sort of). What is done so beautifully, is the depiction of the pain and heartache it causes Roland to experience this conflict and the loving support provided by his mother (yay Mom!)
Importantly, the two girls in the story, Ella and Lucy, are not depicted as bullies but rather they come across as trying to “help” Roland by teaching him about gender expectations. They are not being malicious, but rather they have good intentions. After all, it is likely from their parents (or another influential grown-up) that they’ve learned all about gender norms. Not surprisingly, when Roland finally decides that he will wear what he wants, the girls readily accept this because they value Roland’s friendship over his breaking of gender norms. Ok, so this is rather idealistic, but I can see this as potentially modeling appropriate behavior for a child witnessing non-conformity and coming to accept differences. The only criticism I have of the story is the lack of male peers and their reaction to Roland. Would boys have the same reaction as Ella and Lucy or would they be crueler and less accepting?
The illustrations in the book are made up of collages similar to the style used by Eric Carle. I found them to be quite ingenious and very well done in providing a whimsical depiction of Roland, his friends, his environment, and his parents. They were very effective and I really thought they went well with the text.
My Bottom Line: I am very impressed by this important picture book. Roland Humphrey is Wearing a What? provides an opportunity for children (and grown-ups) to see that it is ok to step outside the expected gender roles that society pressures them to conform to and that it is important for children to remain true to themselves. A critical element in this book is seeing Roland’s reaction (he’s sad and confused) when he is told he can’t wear pink (among other things). This is the crux of the lesson to be learned through this book by everyone (children and adults alike): everyone needs love and acceptance of who they are as individuals. Everyone should read this one! Ages 3+
* This book was provided by us free-of-charge by the publisher in exchange for our honest opinion. All opinions expressed are our own. *
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