Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley, is one of my absolute favorite picture books. It’s vibrant, powerful, and a perfect story to read about the power of voice. Check it out!
Mary Wears What She Wants conveys a brilliant message to kids!
Mary Wears What She Wants teaches kids some of my very favorite lessons.
Use your voice.
Hold your head high.
Color outside the lines.
I know, I know. It’s easier said than done.
Sometimes, even when you want something desperately, it is daunting to go after what you desire when others are trying so hard to steer you in a totally different direction. But when people — especially kids — keep on marching forward despite the naysayers, it’s pretty amazing to witness.
Mary Wears What She Wants shows kids the power of individuality and persistence
I’ve always loved books that showcase children going against the grain to get what they want, and Negley’s Mary Wears What She Wants is a fabulous and special story doing just that.
I simply love it!
Mary Wears What She Wants is inspired by the life of Mary Edwards Walker, a trailblazing doctor who rebelled against the traditional clothing typically worn by women and girls in the 1800s. Why?
Because girls were supposed to wear dresses, and only boys could wear pants.
Yet, pants were obviously more comfortable.
Dresses, on the other hand, could not have been more uncomfortable at that time! They were hot and hard to breathe in, too tight, and allowed virtually no room for movement. Girls could hardly play in dresses, unlike the boys who were always running and jumping and having fun.
Yet that’s how it always was, and that was the way things would always be.
RELATED: We’ve got more than 100 children’s book lists for you on Happily Ever Elephants, so be sure to check them out!
You can purchase Mary Wears What She Wants at these links!
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Mary was not into this rigid social construct. She didn’t think things had to stay the same, especially when she was so darn uncomfortable! So what did Mary do?
She had a novel idea.
One day, she simply decided that she would wear whatever she wanted — even pants!
Except, there was one major problem. Most people didn’t like Mary’s idea. In fact, they rejected it in full force, so much so that they taunted Mary the whole way home from school on the day she wore pants. They ridiculed her and protested and made her almost regret her decision.
When Mary sat for dinner with her father that night, she wondered why her community was so distraught about her choice of clothing.
“Sometimes people get scared of what they don’t understand,” he said.
Related: Check out our awesome list of children’s books about clothing!
I love these wise words.
I love the way the story doesn’t veer into didacticism, allowing the reader to interpret what dad’s words actually mean.
Why are people scared of change? Is change a bad thing? Are there times when change can actually benefit a community?
Mary’s dad doesn’t tell her what to do. Instead, he lets her decide, with readers feeling her indecision as she lies in bed that night.
The next day, readers young and old cheer on this little girl who decides not to let society define who she is and what she wants. Mary walks right out the door wearing pants, looking confident, grateful for how fast they allow her to move through the staring, shouting crowd.
She holds her head high, and when she finally arrives at her classroom, she has quite a surprise waiting for her.
Mary Wears What She Wants conveys a perfect message of girl power!
Strong girls. For such a long time, so many people have tried to hold girls back. Girls have had different expectations than boys, were forced to wear different clothes, have different goals, and work hard for others rather than themselves.
But it’s all changing now, in this era of girl power, and it’s amazing to see women everywhere standing up, refusing to be silenced, and reaching for their highest potential. It’s both remarkable and astonishing to witness this revolution, this time that encourages young girls to be who and what they want to be.
I love Mary Wears What She Wants for the way it so beautifully conveys that our single, individual voices have so much power to make positive change and can even challenge restrictive societal norms. Our daughters — and our sons! — can truly go after what they want — if they believe in themselves and don’t let the negativity and doubts of others hold them back.
This book is perfect for your girls and equally perfect for your boys. Raising our children to stand tall in their shoes and stick to their ideals is something we should all strive for as parents, and Mary Wears What She Wants is a fabulous portrayal of this exact notion. Two trunks up for this gem!
You can purchase Mary Wears What She Wants at these links!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! The story is inspired by the life of Mary Edwards Walker, a trailblazing doctor who rebelled against the traditional clothing typically worn by women and girls in the 1800s. Walker was a surgeon, women’s rights advocate, abolitionist, and spy, and she was also the first female U.S. Army surgeon during the Civil War. From wearing “bloomers” when girls were supposed to wear dresses to becoming a doctor when people did not want to accept women in medicine, Walker is the epitome of a strong woman who used her voice to combat gender norms and stand up for her beliefs.
The thing I love about this story is that it is a fabulous springboard for so many discussions. You can easily have children discuss gender roles and the expectations for girls and boys. Should girls and boys be forced to wear certain clothes? Play with different toys or have different hobbies? Can boys do anything girls can do and vice versa? You will be surprised at the conversations that take place. Be sure to stress the importance of respectful discourse, even when we disagree!
Absolutely! These two children’s book lists share fabulous stories of real women who were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs. Check out our list of books about strong girls and this list of fantastic girl power books!