Christine Baldacchino is a former early childhood educator, and the author of the widely-acclaimed Stonewall Honor book Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. As a champion of both self-expression and anti-bullying, Christine believes that kids should be given the leeway and encouragement to discover who they are, whether it be in denim overalls or a taffeta dress. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and four cats, and likes popsicles, Prince, and referring to herself in the third person.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant is about a little boy who loves using his imagination. But most of all, Morris loves wearing the tangerine dress in his classroom’s dress-up center. The children in Morris’s class don’t understand. Dresses, they say, are for girls. And Morris certainly isn’t welcome in the spaceship some of his classmates are building. Astronauts, they say, don’t wear dresses. One day when Morris feels all alone and sick from their taunts, his mother lets him stay home from school. Morris dreams of a fantastic space adventure with his cat, Moo. With warm, dreamy illustrations, Isabelle Malenfant perfectly captures Morris’s vulnerability and the vibrancy of his imagination.
What motivated you to write a book(s) that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ families/issues?
I had written the book after an incident at a school I was teaching at. A boy who loved a shimmery gold dress in the dress-up centre was forbidden to wear it after his mum saw him in it. I was furious but in no position at the time to do anything about it. Frustrated and angry, I went home that afternoon and wrote Morris in the hopes that I could read the story to the class, particularly to that one boy. When I was a kid, imagining I lived in a mystical place far, far away with my pet dragon was a lot of fun, but sometimes I just wanted to read a book I could see myself in – my regular, real-world self. I grew up struggling to defend everything from the “boy” games I wanted to play during recess to the “boy” haircuts I sported throughout elementary and high school. I would have loved to have had access to more books that spoke to those struggles. I hope that Morris Micklewhite speaks to kids and their own everyday struggles to learn and love who they are. I hope they eventually come to know that those struggles will be worth it.
What do you personally feel makes a family?
I was thinking about this one a lot, and I’m still finding it hard to put into words. It’s just a feeling, I think. I could say love, but that would be some major over-simplifying. When I visit my friend Marie, I know I can go to her house and sink into a comfy couch and just feel like I’m home. When my friend Stacy joined my family and I for Christmas, it felt like it wouldn’t have been Christmas without her. So there’s love there, but there’s also acceptance. Marie accepts that I’m going to snore like a garbage truck and offer unsolicited movie recommendations whenever I stay over, and Stacy accepts that at every family gathering my father will tell at least a dozen tasteless jokes which will eventually dissolve into a lively family discussion about farting. There’s empathy, honesty, a sense of humor, and a sense of belonging. The feeling of family isn’t something you can touch – it’s something you feel, which sounds like something out of a Rankin-Bass holiday special, but it’s true.
What does “equality” look like to you?
I think it looks relaxed and focused. Relaxed because you can be who you are without being made to feel every minute of every day like just existing turns the world on its head, and focused because without that massive emotional weight hanging around your neck, you can focus on living the life you want to live.
Whose books do you admire and why?
I’m a huge fan of JonArno Lawson’s work. He’s a brilliant author and poet. My favorite collection of his is Think Again. The first time I read it, I found myself connecting with his voice right away. There’s something about JonArno’s work that reminds me of Shel Silverstein’s Masks or The Voice. Quirky, philosophical, sometimes sad, always clever.
And this is going to sound like a plug coming from a devoted big sister (I guess it kind of is), but I’m also a big fan of Charlene Challenger’s YA novel The Voices in Between. It’s an amazing fantasy adventure with an LGBTQ lead that’s made even more amazing to me because I got to sit on the sidelines and watch the book go from inception to published and on my nightstand. Seeing firsthand how much love and hard work went into creating that book (and its sequel, The Myth in Distance) makes Char and her books a source of great admiration for me.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m currently working on a book about a girl named Violet Shrink who struggles as an introvert with a large family that seems to just love throwing parties every other weekend. She spends a lot of time at these family gatherings hiding behind drapes and under tables until she finally decides it’s time that she and her father have a little chat. Rather than write a story about an introvert coming out of their shell at the end (as an introvert, I always loved my shell), I wanted to write a story about an introvert who is perfectly happy being an introvert. All Violet wants is a little understanding from her family. I’m hoping that, like Morris, there are kids out there who will relate to and connect with Violet. I’m also in the very early stages of drafting another Morris Micklewhite book (co-starring his beloved tangerine dress, of course).