Well, the title does give the plot away somewhat, but the book is a delight to read. David Walliams is a popular British actor in the UK, and is a co-creator of the popular ‘Little Britain’ seen on British television -- where he and Matt Lucas are renowned for their comical female characters.
David has turned his attention to books aimed at children -- and the topics cover a range of issues that are not often broached in this market. His first book ‘Boy in the Dress’ sets the trend for his other novels in its simple story line, introducing diverse issues with a humor that both children and adults can appreciate.
The story follows a young boy who is from a single parent family. It fortells his daily struggles to survive in school while his father works as a lorry driver to support the family, all the while emotionally scarred of losing his wife, finding solace in binge eating.
Our 12-year old hero is a star player on the school football team but has no support from home, and misses his mother.
He buys a copy of Vogue magazine that has a picture of a dress similar to the one his mother used to wear, but suffers the wrath of his father when the magazine is discovered and endures taunts from his brother, calling him Denise in place of Dennis.
On the same day, after his kick sends the football flying through the headmaster's window, Dennis is kept after school as punishment and meets Lisa. When Lisa finds that they both are interested in fashion, she invites Dennis to her house and eventually gets him to agree to be dressed in a lovely blue dress she has made, and the adventures begin…
The story touches on a range of modern issues, with diversity and inclusion at its core. Some of the characters are from other cultures found in Britain and have a key part in the book explaining some of the cultural differences.
The main focus of the book however is on crossdressing, but the subject is never named other than ‘wearing a dress’.
Terms like transvestite, transgender, drag etc. do not find mention anywhere in the story and I think that this is a significant positive feature of the book.
A child is not going to worry about a label to signify a particular trait, they are going to ‘say it as they see it’, so by having a story that keeps to simple visual vocabulary the reader can identify with the main character without any stigma being attached.
The majority of the characters have inbuilt flaws, such as the father’s anger at his wife leaving them, and this builds an intricate surroundings which many readers can identify with as being realistic.
The story is a little gem and introduces crossdressing in a positive, non-judgmental way, showing the reader that it can be acceptable to crossdress if they feel that they would like to and, as you would expect, provides a happy ending.
It may be useful to parents who are looking for a way to introduce the subject to younger children as a way of bringing the subject into conversation through discussions about the book.
ISBN Harper and Collins, paperback, audio book and kindle. BUY NOW