A young child, assigned male at birth but whose “shadow is pink” and likes to wear dresses finds acceptance from his burly, masculine, blue-shadowed dad in a new picture book inspired by the author and his child’s real-life story.
Children’s book author Scott Stuart’s son has had a love for Elsa from Disney’s Frozen since he was three years old, Stuart wrote in a piece at The Father Hood. This soon included wanting to wear Elsa dresses. Stuart, who’d been his school’s rugby captain and grew up in “a highly traditional masculine way,” wasn’t comfortable with that at first. When his son came home from daycare after being bullied for having an Elsa doll, however, Stuart started writing and illustrating My Shadow Is Pink, a picture book about a gender creative child (presumably assigned male at birth (AMAB)) and his dad. The book came out in Australia and the U.K. last year, but has its U.S. publication this week.
The protagonist of My Shadow Is Pink is a White child who loves pink, princesses, and other things “not for boys”—especially “wearing dresses and dancing around.” In rhyming couplets, he tells us that he halts such activities, when his dad—also White, but large, hairy-chested, and mustached—walks in. His dad tells him that it’s “just a phase” and that he’ll soon have a blue shadow, too. The child wishes for this so he’ll be like his dad and brother, but quickly realizes “I cannot fit in when my shadow stands out.”
On the child’s first day of school, the teacher has asked each student to dress up with their shadow “in its favorite thing.” The child puts on a dress and looks at his dad, who is fearful but takes him to class anyway. Seeing the big dad wringing his hands anxiously about this adds another layer to readers’ thinking about what it means to be a strong man. Sometimes strength means protecting your child from harm; sometimes it means letting them forge their own path; sometimes physical strength can’t help.
In class, the child is clearly different from the boys, who all have blue shadows (as does one child who appears to be a girl). All the children look at him. He runs home and tears off his dress, vowing never to wear it again.
But wait … there’s a knock on his door, and in walks his dad, blue-shadowed but wearing a pink sparkly dress in solidarity. The dad says that he realizes the child’s pink shadow is “your innermost you.” He shows him pictures of a variety of people whose shadows (read: innermost selves) also like gender atypical things. One man loves fashion and art; one girl loves cheerleading, but also engines and cars; a male weightlifter loves dance; one girl’s shadow “likes girls.”
The dad encourages the child to put his dress back on, cautioning him that while some may not love him for this, the ones that do “will love you a lot”—and those that don’t are fools. Both father and child walk hand in hand, clad in dresses, back to school, where the other children ask the child to be their friend.
Stuart isn’t just making up stories here—he’s living the support he writes about. When his son wanted to wear an Elsa dress for the Sydney, Australia premiere of Disney’s Frozen 2, Stuart told him “There is no way you’re doing that … alone,” and donned an identical (but larger) dress alongside him. Stuart’s video about the event went viral on TikTok and has 4.8 million likes as of this writing.
There are a fair number of books now about gender-creative AMAB children encountering questions or harassment about their gender expression at school. Stuart’s take on the theme stands out for its focus on the relationship between the child and his dad and on societal ideas about masculinity. The over-exaggerated depiction of the dad as a hirsute lumberjack type who nevertheless loves and supports his son feels particularly heartwarming. If a dad like that can accept a gender creative son, anyone can (or so we can hope).
Stuart also recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a short film based on the book. Stay tuned—and in the meantime, check out his short guide for parents, “So, your son wants to wear a dress?” on Instagram!