Jacob's New Dress

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Jacob's New Dress Book Poster Image
Cheery book on dismantling gender norms helps kids, parents.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teaches how societal norms change with the times, and what some view as unusual today may be routine in the future. Solid examples for parents on how they might handle a similar situation. Notes at end encourage parents of gender-nonconforming kids to tap into a support network, and the authors briefly describe their experience as parents and emphasize the importance of family support for kids who don't neatly fit any label.

Positive Messages

Sends clear message: It's OK to wear what makes you comfortable, regardless of gender. What's considered "normal" is relative and changes with perspective. It's important to let young children have agency over how they present themselves to the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jacob is self-confident and certain what he wants, though Christopher's behavior upsets him. His friend Emily is a strong, assertive ally, and his peers at school generally seem to respect his wishes (except a few who laugh when Christopher mocks him at play time). His teacher and parents aren't wholly comfortable with how Christopher chooses to present himself, but they let him take the lead and support him fully.

Violence & Scariness

Boy pulls top layer of clothing off of Jacob and mocks him by assigning to the girls' team.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jacob's New Dress is about a confident young boy who feels best when he's wearing a dress. Co-authors Sarah and Ian Hoffman, themselves parents of a gender-nonconforming child, target the book to help both children who might feel like they don't fit in and their parents, who may be unsure of how to handle such situations. The story is unwaveringly supportive of Jacob, who so desires to wear what he wants that he creates his own dress for school. There's a bully who seems to be learning intolerance from his father, but Jacob's compassionate best friend supports him and his other classmates don't seem to pay much attention to it.

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What's the story?

In JACOB'S NEW DRESS, Jacob loves to wear dresses: the princess costume at his school's dress-up corner, a witch dress he wore for Halloween, even a homemade dress he fashioned from a towel. His classmate, Christopher, insists boys don't wear dresses and tears away his homemade dress. Jacob's friend Emily and his parents assure him it's fine to wear a dress, and his mom helps him sew a real dress -- purple, with ruffles. Wearing what he wants helps Jacob feel so comfortable, he finds Christopher's taunts have lost their power.

Is it any good?

This compassionate, encouraging story is helpful for both children and their parents. What seems so simple for a young child -- wearing what makes him feel good -- can seem much more complicated for people who care for him, as parents and co-authors Sarah and Ian Hoffman know well. They drew on their own experience to write Jacob's New Dress.

The story is told simply, enlivened by illustrator Chris Case's expressive characters and vibrant style. Jacob senses his parents' uncertainty but clearly feels supported -- parents will recognize their hesitation and resolve to stand by Jacob. The resolution may feel a little too easy for families of children who are targeted by bullies: It's a joy to see Jacob refuse to let his bully hamper his spirit, but for most victimized kids it isn't so easy. Still, this is an excellent book for starting a conversation with kids and for parents feeling their way through unfamiliar terrain.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how clothing helps Jacob feel confident and happy in Jacob's New Dress. Which outfits or costumes boost your spirits?

  • Do you sometimes feel people think you can't -- or shouldn't -- do something because you're a boy or a girl?

  • Do you find it easy to stand out in a crowd, or you find it takes courage to be yourself?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love LGBT stories and tales of standing up to bullies

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