Shorter days and slanting shadows mark the fading of another season as families settle into the routine of a new school year. Should you find yourself reaching for a cozy blanket and more reflective reading material some cool autumn evening, you must try The Dress and the Girl, written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Julie Morstad.
A mother makes a new dress for her daughter; not a fancy dress, not a special dress… just an everyday dress. The girl loves her dress, and indeed wears it every day as she goes about her chores and play (such play! sailing, stargazing, picking daffodils…). The dress also loves the girl, and together they long to do something exciting. But nothing exciting happens, until one day the family packs their few belongings and bids their homeland goodbye. The girl wears the dress across the ocean, and as they disembark in the New World they wonder if their time has come for adventure.
But instead the girl and her dress are separated. Locked inside a trunk left on the dock, the dress makes its way around the world in search of the girl. Meanwhile, a day at a time, the girl grows up and has a little girl of her own. And then one day – quite unexpectedly – the girl (now a woman) and the dress find each other again. As the memories of a childhood filled with play and laughter come flooding back, the girl realizes that the ordinary really was quite extraordinary after all.
This (relatively new) book is beautiful in every respect. The writing is clean and concise, with power to evoke tremendous feeling. Short enough to entertain a toddler, it is rich enough to bring a tear to the eye of the adult reading it to her. A fine choice for reading aloud with very little ones, it also has the scope to captivate more mature independent readers who are old enough to identify the girl’s life experiences.
The pictures are equally lovely, and reminiscent of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. Serene depictions of daily life and childhood play are tucked within instantly recognizable images: the iconic azure domes of the Greek islands, lush Mediterranean countryside, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, the bustling streets of New York. The mundane mingles with the significant, the familiar mixes with the new; the Statue of Liberty looming in the distance is somehow just as recognizable and heartening as the mother clutching her baby on the gangplank. Little eyes can explore details of national dress from around the world, and also find the sorts of small things – like a wedding photograph – that are universally cherished.
As this artful story unfolds, the reader sees all along what the girl in the story does not, until she is grown: that there is intense beauty in the everyday moments that make up our lives. That everyone is shaped by stillness and upheaval, the old ways and the new opportunities, the common and the spectacular. That the tapestry of the vibrant human story is woven by everyday people doing everyday things, and that those activities are really quite significant: a child playing, a girl studying, a couple marrying, a family growing. It is investing in these opportunities, these relationships, that makes the world a better place.
If you liked this book you might also enjoy: The Keeping Quilt, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco