This is one of those books that I read and then thought, “I was just waiting for you to come along.” The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is a heartwarming story of love in many forms. The two main characters in this book are a dressmaker named Frances and a prince named Sebastian. They have lived very different lives but it is easy to see that they were meant to meet. Sebastian is always a well dressed monarch, but as a non-binary person, doesn’t always feel like being Sebastian. Sometimes she is Lady Crystallia. Frances’ exotic style makes her the perfect dressmaker, and more, for Sebastian. The relationship between these two is very sweet as it grows, but equally exquisite are the relationships that Sebastian has with family and friends. This book was simply a joy to read and offers many opportunities for exploration in middle school or high school writing or literature classrooms.
This is a graphic novel and the question of how Wang uses the text and illustrations, separately or together, to advance the narrative is a great place to start classroom exploration. Theme and characterization are also intricately connected in the text and illustrations and breaking these down invites students to slow down and carefully consider each (the king’s transformation in this book is particularly memorable). Students might also be asked to compare and contrast this story to other popular tales with a similar story line. The story also offers opportunities for discussions of gender normative social structures.
Transgender youth are starting to be represented in juvenile fiction and young adult literature (though there is still a lot of room to grow), but this story’s introduction of a non-binary or gender fluid character is one of the first that I have read. I am sure there are many other books with strong representatives of this identity and I would welcome hearing about them.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 7- I have the language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including myself) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.
Diversity 10- I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.
RL.3- Analyze how characters develop over the course of the text.
RL.5- Analyze how the author structures this story.
RL.6- Analyze a particular point of view and how it is expressed.
RL.9- Analyze how a modern work draws on themes of classic stories.