I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a New York Times review this past August. The title intrigued me, and I knew I had to find and review this picture book. As I’m traveling as this review posts, and as we’re entering into a season when many of us journey to celebrate holidays, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today.
Title: The Dress and the Girl
Written By: Camille Andros
Illustrated By: Julie Morstad
Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: immigration; memory; journeys
Back when time seemed slower and life simpler, there was a dress. A dress much like many others, made for a girl by her mother.
When a young girl and her family journey from Greece to America, the young girl loses her favorite dress.
Links to Resources:
- Have you ever moved from one house, town, city or country to another place? Draw or describe something that you remember from the place you left;
- In the story, the dress and the girl rode in a wagon and sailed in a boat. What types of vehicles have you used to travel?
- Do you have a favorite outfit that you like to wear or a favorite toy or stuffed animal with whom you do everything? Describe or draw that outfit or object;
- The young girl and her family arrive to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration;
- Read the Author’s Note about the inspiration for this book and her hopes for immigrants and refugees today.
Why I Like this Book:
The Dress and the Girl is a gentle, lyrical immigration story, that will appeal to younger and older children. Unlike many immigration stories that focus on the terrors a refugee or family faces or others that focus solely on one aspect of the refugee or immigration experience, The Dress and the Girl provides glimpses into a bucolic life prior to the journey, describes the journey with kid-centric details, and offers hope that the girl, and her beloved dress, settle into their new country at long last.
Parted at Ellis Island, when the dress is placed in a trunk that the girl and her family fail to retrieve, the story follows the dress’ quest to reunite with her beloved girl. As the dress “traveled the world – searching”, days, weeks, months and years passed, and, in illustrations, the reader sees the young girl become a woman and mother. I won’t spoil the ending, but trust me, it’s extraordinary.
Morstad’s soft palette suits the story well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes at Ellis Island, where, utilizing two wordless spreads, Morstad shows first the hubbub of the arrivals hall and then the loneliness of the lost dress.
A Note about Craft:
As is evident from the title, The Dress and the Girl, a beloved object sewn by the girl’s mother takes center stage in this immigration story. Like a stuffed animal or pet, the dress accompanies the girl everywhere until they are parted. By focusing on the dress, instead of the girl, I think Andros is able to summarize the girl’s settlement process more quickly and show how she thrives in her new environment, even as she retains memories shared with the dress.
Andros repeats a series of activities four times: riding in a wagon, sailing in a boat, going to school, jumping rope and playing tag. In the first instance, Andros sets the “life before the journey” scene, showing the reader what the dress and girl did before leaving Greece. The next instance recounts the journey. The dress then embarks on her own journey, where she does some of these activities, but all are mentioned. And, finally, the pair remember these activities together. Although for a picture book this may seem like a lot of repetition, the refrain-like repetition and subtle changes act, in my mind, as a framework that ties the story together.
Monica Edinger reviewed The Dress and the Girl along with other immigration and refugee books in the New York Times earlier this year. Visit Andros’ website to learn more about her and The Dress and the Girl. Visit Morstad’s website to see more of her illustrations.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!