It took me a few readings, on my own and at story time, to really appreciate the magnificence of I Had a Favorite Dress, written by Boni Ashburn and perfectly illustrated by Julia Denos, who has a very cool blog called The Cinnamon Rabbit. After all, Simms Taback brought us the excellent Joseph Had a Little Overcoat which won the Caldecott in 2000 in which Joseph's favorite coat dwindles to a mere button and ingenious die-cuts on the brightly illustrated pages show the shrinking of the overcoat (Taback also used this method to great ends in his version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, a favorite of my son's.) But, as I watched the faces of the little girls at story time as the narrator's favorite dress (which is really cute, by the way. If I was seven or eight I would LOVE a dress like the one Denos designed) morphed over and over, I remembered my favorite dress. When I was six or seven I had a dress that looked a bit like a French painter's smock with a large collar and bow. But, the best thing about it was the fact that it had the 100 Acre Wood printed on it! When it became too short (and believe me, in the 1970s little girls wore their dresses short) my mother told me I could wear it as a SHIRT and the world was beautiful again! The beauty of Taback's overcoat story, which is based on a Yiddish folk song by the same name, is timeless and, although I tend to eschew the more girly things in this world, I Had a Favorite Dress is less about a pouffy, pinky sort of dress and more about creativity, adaptability and the pure joy in owning something that you love that makes you feel good when you wear it. We should all be so lucky!
Julia Denos' illustrations are layered, multimedia delights and range from light and airy watercolors to scribbly, happy bursts of color to paper doll-like cut outs and definitely make this book a keeper (as well as a GREAT birthday gift!) Sometimes I found myself tripping over Ashburn's text as I read I Had a Favorite Dress out loud, but the basic idea of the book, the narrator's love of her dress which she always wears on her favorite day of the week, is delightful. When Mama tells the narrator that her dress is too short, she moans and groans but Mama tells her, "You're overwrought, dear, it's clear. Don't make mountains out of molehills. Make molehills out of mountains."
And, "SNIP, SNIP, sew, sew, new shirt hello!" This new favorite also earns a new favorite day, as does each incarnation of the dress.
Dress becomes shirt, becomes tank top, skirt, scarf, socks and finally a hair bow. When the hair bow is chewed up by the narrator's puppy, she takes the scraps and pastes them onto a self-portrait. Brilliant!
Be sure to visit Jama's Alphabet Soup where you can see pictures of Boni, Boni's little girl and Julia as kids in their favorite (and not favorite) dresses, shirts and shoes. There is also a great interview with Julia Denos at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast conducted while she was in the middle of creating the art for I Had a Favorite Dress. You can also visit Julia's shop where you can buy a print titled Little Dresses!
Denos is also repackaging Hilary McKay's Casson Family series (which everyone falls in love with, including Julia) the first book of which is Saffy's Angel.