Oliver does what he enjoys, not what boys are supposed to do. Despite being chastised by his father for not doing enough ‘boy’ stuff, Oliver is content jumping rope and playing with dolls.
Oliver Button was called a sissy. He didn’t like to do things that boys are supposed to do. Instead he liked to play in the woods and jump rope. He liked to read books and draw pictures. He even liked to play with paper dolls. And Oliver Button liked to play dress-up. He would go up to the attic and put on costumes. Then he would sing and dance and make believe he was a movie star. “Oliver,” said his papa. “Don’t be such a sissy! Go out and play baseball or football or basketball. Any kind of ball!”
To encourage Oliver to get some physical exercise, he is put in a dance class. Oliver gives it his very best. The boys in his school don’t think much of Oliver, the dancer.
But the boys, especially the older ones, in the schoolyard teased Oliver Button. “What are those shiny shoes, sissy?” they said. “La-de-doo, you gonna dance for us?” And they grabbed Oliver’s tap shoes and played catch with them, until one of the girls caught them. “Gotta have help from girls,” the boys said teasingly. And they wrote on the school wall, “Oliver Button is a sissy”.
In this book, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola the idea of gender stereotyping is explored. The boys tease Oliver and toss his shoes. The girls in his dance class have less rigid views on Oliver dancing with them. A competition is announced and Oliver performs his best moves, but still loses. he is heartbroken. He goes to school expecting to be the butt of jokes but is surprised to see his friends not only accept but laud his skills as a performer. They rethink the way they see what a ‘boy’ should do or what a ‘girl’ can do and instead learn to celebrate the individual skills of each other, in this case, Oliver Button.
This book is particularly good to be read by anyone with rigid gender boundaries. Children often have very set views on ‘boys things’ and ‘girls things’. This book will help open the doors for questioning and discussing the idea that capabilities are not determined by gender, but by interests and skill.