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[Review] Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT?; Eileen Kiernan-Johnson


Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT?

Published 2013, Huntley Rahara Press. Suitable for ages 3+

From the cover:

“Roland Humphrey is a little boy for whom sparkly pink things bring a measure of joy. Roland sees girls at his school dress in a rainbow of hues and is confused by the “rules” limiting what boys can choose. He likes sports but also ballet; Roland doesn’t understand why girls can like both but for boys there’s just one way.

Will he bow to peer pressure? Conform to others’ ideas of who he should be? Or will he follow his own heart and be the authentic Roland Humphrey?

I love books that do their part to destroy gender binaries, harmful stereotypes and Roland Humphrey is Wearing a What? is just such a book.

Unlike a number of other books I’ve featured Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT? does not address gender directly. It’s speaks of the unwritten rules that seek to shape our behavior and keep us complicit in our biologically determined gender roles.

Roland’s dilemma is one familiar to many children of liberal parents. He’s always been taught that he can dress how he likes without judgement but this theory is tested when he is outside the safety of the familial home; when Roland wears his ‘girly’ colours and motifs to school, his friends make a helpful list of what is appropriate for him to wear.

Lucy and Ella's colour rules 4 boys

Lucy and Ella’s colour rules 4 boys

Roland is upset by these prescriptive demands, but the next day he’s made a decision:

“Hi friends!” in a bright voice Roland declared.
“You need to know that I’m no longer scared.

Not scared about how you’ll view what I’m wearing,
because I’ve decided I need to be daring.

What matters to me is whether you’re kind.
The friends I deserve truly won’t mind

if I choose sparkly nailpolish, skirts or clogs,
they’ll like me for me, not for my togs.

Roland’s decision to be true to himself appears to have given him more than just the confidence to wear pink. For the first time we see him wearing a dress and tiara, a fairy wand and catcher’s mitt peeping out of his backpack.

Digital illustrations from Katrina Revenaugh are bright and colourful, making full use of the so-called feminine palette, stylistically recalling the work of Rex  Ray in 10,000 Dresses. Each page is  full of interest.

The narrative, unfortunately, leaves a little to be desired. Kiernan-Johnson tells Roland’s story in rhyming couplets, but the language is occasionally forced and the rhythm sometimes stumbles. These slips are jarring and make for an uncomfortable reading experience.

There’s something about Roland Humphrey… that I can only describe as a self-published quality. It is well meaning, absolutlely, and it hits the mark about 70% of the time, which is absolutely not bad. But it needs to be hitting the mark 100% of the time. The language is slightly off; the cover text feels like an afterthought. Revenaugh’s art is lovely, but it’s just not matched by the text, which means Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT? scrapes 5/10.

My thanks to Huntley Rahara for providing a copy for review.


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