Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown is the story of a young child’s frolicking adventure within the home environment. As we can see from the playful image on the front cover, Fred (the central character of this work of picture fiction) prefers exploring his habitat au naturel… that is, until he discovers his mum and dad’s closets. As he selects clothes and accessories to try on, we begin to have an insight into Fred’s individuality and also, the genesis of his identity. The story is told in the present tense, making the action in the story feel more spontaneous as if the reader has a front-row seat as it unfolds.
The assonant title of Fred Gets Dressed draws the reader in from the start, giving us a glimpse into the playfulness of this story of childhood exploration. Peter Brown has delved into the human realm with this work by drawing on experiences from his own childhood – a break from his other works which are centred around animals, monsters and robots. Avid readers will be familiar with Brown’s New York Times bestsellers The Wild Robot, The Curious Garden, Children Make Terrible Pets and Mr Tiger Goes Wild. To read more about Brown’s inspiration for writing this latest picture book, visit The story behind Fred Gets Dressed (peterbrownstudio.com)
There are many opportunities within the story to talk about gender roles, individuality and personal identity. In the story, Fred feels most comfortable in his mother’s clothes as ‘he has no trouble putting them on.’ There is not, however, negativity associated with dad’s closet or his way of dressing. There is not a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ but rather a choice that we see unravelling in the story. There is a pivotal point where Fred has dressed in his mum’s clothes and he emerges from the closet to face his parents. The reader can feel the tension on this wordless, double-page spread, amplified with the page divide falling directly between Fred and his parents. This would be a good point to pause, predict and discuss with children – What are the characters feeling and thinking? What might happen next and why do you think this?
The theme of love, care and respect shine through in this simple tale. It would be interesting to explore with learners the different clues that the author provides us throughout the work (in words, between the lines and in the images) that show us that this family cares for each other. Not only are Fred’s parents accepting and encouraging of his choices, but we can also see reflections of a calm safe environment by looking at objects in the house – healthy plants, a family pet, a cosy and welcoming feel to the house with the pink tones used in the illustration, etc.
This is an important story for children to experience and explore as they consider their own identity and that of others. Brown leaves the reader to ponder what will happen next to Fred, what choices he will make and what adventures he will have into further self-expression. Fred Gets Dressed is a perfect choice to open up conversations about identity and acceptance.
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