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10 Years of Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

10 Years of Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and its message of love and acceptance for everyone (no matter what they wear!), we asked author Christine Baldacchino and illustrator Isabelle Malenfant to interview one another about the book and its impact over the past decade.


Christine: Hi Isabelle! Let’s go back ten years and start with the making of the book. What did you like most about the process of illustrating Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress?

Isabelle: Ten years already! Wow! Happy tenth anniversary to our beautiful Morris! I immediately loved this original story about the power that we have within ourselves. I remember loving my little Morris character the moment I found him on paper. I liked his creative side and his imaginary world. I found him to be a very strong and brave little character. Then, from an illustration point of view, it was interesting to find a way to represent the tangerine dress in a special way. For me, it was a character in and of itself and it had to have a distinctive look. I wanted the drawing to represent the “swish, swish, swish” and “crinkle, crinkle, crinkle” noises, as well as the fluidity of the fabric. Finally, working with our dear editor, the late Sheila Barry, was a great pleasure. She was so warm, open and communicative, and she made sure that so many more readers would have the chance to experience our story.

How have readers reacted to the book in your experience, Christine? 

Christine: Over the years, readers have been amazing. Kids create art and write sequels – Morris has been quite the fashion plate! They engage in discussions and share their experiences. They inspire each other and inspire me. A lot of grown-ups tell me how happy they are that their children feel seen. A lot of grown-ups tell me how they feel seen. Like … Julie Andrews is a fan of our book. I mean, what? WHAT?

I recently got to go to Minneapolis to see the Children’s Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of Morris, and that was mind-blowing. I can’t describe all the wonderful things my heart did when I saw Isabelle’s beautiful illustrations incorporated in the set design, or when I watched Morris pull the tangerine dress out of the dress-up trunk for the first time. To know someone else’s heart may have done all those wonderful, indescribable things, too? It’s an incredible feeling.

I never imagined I could create something that would just keep giving and giving and giving the way Morris has – not just for a day, but a whole decade.

What has surprised you most, Isabelle?

Isabelle: I'm so impressed that after ten years Morris is still so relevant and above all so appreciated!  Throughout these ten years, it has continued to stand out, to be honoured, to be presented to the public and read and shared by children, parents, loved ones and teachers around the world. Each translation (it has been translated into nine languages) and adaptation is another victory. All this love is what still impresses me every day and makes me proud to have illustrated this wonderful and important story!

Unfortunately, some responses have not been as positive. Morris has been challenged and banned in many places. Can you talk about the impact censorship has had on the book, and why it’s so important that we as authors and illustrators fight back?

Christine: You know how they say “any publicity is good publicity”? Yeah, that’s not entirely the case. Sure, these book bans have brought Morris attention, and it’s reminded me that, for a story about something as simple as a boy who likes to wear a dress, Morris has accomplished amazing things. But that attention has also brought with it a lot of hateful messages from bigots. That has been … not good. I worry for the people fighting on the front lines to protect our book and protect people’s rights to access it. Librarians, teachers, story hour organizers, drag queens and drag kings, parents, grandparents, kids. KIDS. Kids, all kids, deserve to see themselves in books experiencing a full spectrum of emotions against the backdrop of the world they live in. They deserve to have access to stories that give them a glimpse into life experiences that may or may not necessarily reflect their own. Children’s books are powerful things. They show a child how big and diverse the world really is. They foster curiosity, understanding and empathy. I think that’s worth fighting for. 

Isabelle: I agree. For me, it is simply unthinkable to ban a book because its existence in and of itself testifies to its importance. To ban a book is to hide a truth, to hide a reality, to hide a voice carrying a thousand other voices! Books are there to escape, to live adventures and experience emotions, to educate, to learn, to see life from another point of view and open the doors to other worlds. Morris is important because it allows many children to identify with this beautiful character. It gives them the courage to respect and love themselves as they are. It normalizes difference by allowing it to exist through the book. It is important to continue to write, illustrate and produce books on so-called “controversial” subjects, precisely so that one day these subjects will no longer be considered “controversial”!

I have one last question for you, Christine. What does Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress mean to you, ten years later?

Christine: Morris means so much to me. Child Me, with her “boy hair” and a love for superheroes and “weirdo music,” who wanted nothing more than to just be without being labeled a social pariah. Teen Me, who wanted to be a writer so badly but didn’t believe she’d ever be good enough, so why try. And Grownup Me, who gets to meet hundreds of Child Me’s and Teen Me’s, listen to their stories, learn about their dreams, and tell them everything Child Me and Teen Me needed to hear when things got dark and sad and scary. Heck, things still get dark and sad and scary sometimes. Morris is there for that Me, too.

Thank you so much to Christine and Isabelle, and HAPPY PRIDE!

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