We are in an age of children’s books that portray messages of acceptance of people from all backgrounds. When I initially saw Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, I expected the story to be about a gender fluid child but I was very wrong.
This book follows Mary Walker, one of the first women in history to be known to have worn pants. The book was published this year and discussion of it is fitting given the recent celebration of International Women’s Day. While the story may not be entirely historically accurate, it provides an important window for children to the ways in which the world has changed. It could also be a great conversation starter about the stark gender inequality that exists in other parts of the world and the ways in which not all societies have the privileges that America does. Negley includes a mini-biography of Mary Walker at the end of the book that describes her accomplishments beyond choosing to wear pants that could, likewise, spark interesting discussion with children.
Beyond the written aspect, the book has lovely illustrations that are unlike those in many children’s books. There is a good mix of simple spreads and more complex ones.
The book could stand to represent a greater variety of racial diversity, but this may be reflective of the time period in which the story is set. I appreciate the focus on the colors pink and blue, which are traditionally gendered colors and Mary’s yellow clothing to signify her break from normative behavior. I enjoyed the mix of drawn media and the collage element with the cut-out shapes that comprised some of the characters’ clothing.
Overall, I believe the book is well done and would be a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.