On first glance, children’s book Mary Wears What She Wants appears to be a story about a contemporary little girl named Mary who wants to pick her own wardrobe. But this feisty Mary was born Mary Edwards Walker in 1832 in Oswega, N.Y. For very practical reasons, Mary did not want to wear the clothing expected of young women of the day: cumbersome full-length dresses always and everywhere. Mary’s rebellion is very simple. She always shows up in pants. Her defiance is never well received. But as she gets older, she only becomes increasingly confident in her belief that pants are not men’s clothing but just clothing.
Although the picture book sticks with Mary’s insistence on wearing what she wants, Dr. Mary Walker, as she became known, was an abolitionist, prohibitionist, surgeon and prisoner of war. At the time of this book’s publication, Walker is still the only woman to ever receive the USA Congressional Medal of Honor, which she was said to have worn proudly every day for the rest of her life. Dr. Mary Edwards also is said to have defied social clothing mores until the day she died at the age of 86.
The illustrations are simple, hearkening back to early printing and colour techniques. The red, white and blue are no doubt chosen to parallel Mary’s role in the American fight for women’s rights. This is a story worthy of its telling in today’s continuing climate of inequities. (Harper Collins)
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