Fred LOVES being naked. While his parents sit around reading, Fred rushes from room to room, jumping off chairs and bouncing on the beds and generally being ‘wild and free’. Will Fred EVER get dressed? It seems unlikely – until he discovers Mum and Dad’s wardrobe, when a different kind of game begins.
Dad’s clothes are tricky and won’t fit properly, but Mum’s blouse makes a great dress, and Fred adores her jewellery. What will Mum and Dad say when they see him wearing high heels and lipstick? There’s a moment of doubt as Fred faces Mum and Dad across the page divide.
But as the next spread reveals, it’s smiles all round as Mum shows Fred how she applies makeup, and soon Dad’s joining in the fun, too. Even the dog gets a bow in his tail, just in time for a family photo to capture the day that Fred got dressed at last. Or did he? Watch out for a cheeky surprise on the final page!
To create his illustrations, Peter Brown worked digitally using only four colours – hot pink, lime green, black and white – and this unusual palette has a strong impact on our reading experience. Accents of bright pink jump out on every page, communicating a sense of joie de vivre and energy. Paler shades of pink or green accentuate the visual differences between Fred’s Mum and Dad, while the use of both colours in Fred’s skin reinforces our sense of family unity and makes him pop against the neutral backgrounds. There’s an appealing sense of graphic minimalism about Brown’s artwork, which directs attention to the things that matter on each spread and gives them the space they need to make an impact – Fred’s joyful leaping, for example, or the houseplants which also thrive in this caring and nurturing environment.
Featuring an unapologetically naked child on the cover of a picturebook is also an unusual choice, particularly for a US-based artist. But as Brown told Betsy Bird in the School Library Journal (8/9/20) ‘Fred spends the first third of the book ‘au naturel’ … so yes, the cover shows Fred marching, naked, through his home.’ And although he accepts that some families may find it uncomfortable, Brown is hoping they’ll accept Fred’s nudity, ‘because throughout the book I make sure to position Fred so that we never see any of his private parts, and because the title Fred Gets Dressed lets everyone know that Fred will be covering up soon.’
Inspired by Brown’s own childhood experiences and bursting with mischief, joie de vivre and the glow of unconditional love, Fred Gets Dressed explores the idea of playful self-expression while raising gentle questions about convention, identity and prejudice. Under 5’s will respond to this book’s exuberance, clear voice and lack of an overt subtext, but there are complex and nuanced ideas here, too, that will resonate with older readers and provide much for them to reflect on and discuss.