picture book crush: i had a favorite dress by boni ashburn and julia denos

I’m twirling myself silly with delight over this brand new picture book by Boni Ashburn and Julia Denos. It made me wonder if Boni and Julia ever had a favorite dress. More on that in a bit, but for now, let’s try this charming story on for size.

Here’s a girl who love love loves her salmon-colored, striped-bodice, ruffly-skirt dress, wearing it every single Tuesday, her favorite day of the week. But one day, her favoritest dress ever is just too short and she’s beside herself. Mama comes to the rescue, advising that instead of making mountains out of molehills, she make molehills out of mountains. So, with a “SNIP, SNIP, sew sew” — it’s “New shirt, hello!”

Thus begins a series of clever, wholly satisfying transformations. When the shirt becomes too tight, Mama turns it into a tank top, then a more school-appropriate skirt,  a tassely scarf for winter, a pair of cozy socks, and a pretty hair bow. And what happens when puppy shreds the bow into teeny tiny scraps? The girl creates something all by herself that enables her to wear her favoritest dress “every day of every season of every year.” Brilliant! 

Speaking of clever transformations, this sprightly, contemporary girly-girl adaptation of the familiar “Something from Nothing” Jewish folktale will totally enchant budding fashionistas, showing them that change needn’t necessarily be a bad thing, since it can invite something new and surprising. Growing older is a process of reinvention, and I love how this story embraces positivity, possibility, and resourcefulness.

Julia’s exuberant mixed media illustrations (watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, needle and thread collage) — so fresh, child-like, and evocative — perfectly complement Boni’s spirited, patterned text (loose internal rhymes, alliterative tag lines, days-of-the-week structure). Readers will be anxious to see what the “dress” will turn into next, and will love poring over each stylish spread with its cheery colors, paper cut-outs and endearing stitches. What a beautiful celebration of creativity and all things handmade. Très chic!

So, would you like to know if Boni and Julia ever had a favorite article of clothing or accessory when they were little, and if they have one now? I asked Boni to also include her daughter Lily, who inspired the book.

BONI: While my mother had a great deal of fun dressing my little sister and me in matching, homemade dresses, they were never, ever my favorites! I wasn’t much of a dress girl at all  (and I’m still not), but I did have a favorite red-and-blue plaid shirt that I wore WAY too much for WAY too long until it mysteriously disappeared. I suspect any of my family members, but I really don’t blame them — it was a pretty ugly shirt!

Boni and her little sister Teri

As far as my daughter Lily goes, any and all dresses would qualify. She is fashionable and girly, but I didn’t discover this until she was old enough to realize she could demand to wear certain clothes. Until then (I think she was 3 or 4), I dressed her a lot like her twin brother — jeans and t-shirts, just because it was easier. And never pink! I feel kind of guilty about it now and hope she forgives me someday :). The first dress she ever wanted was not particularly girly, but she quickly evolved from there!

First dress Lily ever wanted
Another of Lily’s favorites.

I don’t really have any favorite items of clothing — I’m happy to reach into the closet and find something that fits my mood for the day. Usually it’s jeans and a t-shirt. But I have made a recent concession for my daughter and started wearing earrings and changing them daily (much to her delight) and I must say, I’m kind of liking it. Will dresses be next? Haha — she’d LOVE that, but we’ll have to see.

JULIA: I LOVED clothes as a kid, and I was really picky about them which drove my mother nuts. I had a t-shirt in the 80’s I was ESPECIALLY proud of because of the paint splatters, spray paint squiggles and sewn-on sequins . . . WAY rad in 1988. Here it is on the first day of first grade:

A t-shirt that surely turned heads.

My husband and I were looking through old photos and I found a glimpse of my actual favorite shoes of ALL TIME! They were from the 80’s — a brand of sneaker called “Thermo-Kids” which had color changing hearts depending on the outside temperature. (Nerd time!) I wore them with EVERYTHING and gave them a good run (that’s my hard-won broken arm cast). I’m 4 here:

The famous Thermo-Kids sneakers — love those hearts!

My current favorite are these bright green vintage shoes I call my Lyles. I slipped them on in the store and they felt like old friends right away. I can walk all around the city in them, which is surprising for a pair of 30-year-old shoes worn in by someone else. Plus (as my mom would say), green is the color of NEWNESS/CHANGE/GROWTH, so I like to think they bring some confidence along! (you can’t be timid in alligator green).

Isn’t this the coolest fashion show ever? Lily is definitely the prettiest runway model we’ve had here at alphabet soup, and I love those green Lyles (my fave color, too)! Sad to say, Thermo-Kids was way after before my time ☺, so I feel a little deprived . . .

Oh, I also asked Boni and Julia what they loved most about creating this book.

JULIA: What I loved most was the infectious energy in Boni’s text and the mood it set for me to go play! I got to really experiment with 3-D techniques and work further with pattern and color and texture, too, which was refreshing.

BONI: I loved taking an old, well-loved tale and making it fresh and new for today’s child. And I loved the main character’s voice, which I heard so clearly in my head that it just tumbled onto the page. The text is playful and fun to read aloud — it was just a pure joy to write.

I’m sure by now you’re all dying to see I Had a Favorite Dress (buy it! read it! wear it!).  Join those in the know who are clamoring, “I Have a Favorite Book!” Extra points for the brown characters, little mug of cocoa with marshmallows, and kitty slurping up pasta (with stylish bib, of course). Thanks, Boni and Julia, for creating this gem ☺!

written by Boni Ashburn
illustrated by Julia Denos
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Full color Picture Book for Ages 4-8, 32 pages
Cool themes: Growing older, changes, art, sewing, creativity, crafts, fashion, mothers and daughters, clothing, recycling.
Available off the rack on shelves now.


♥ Boni Ashburn’s official website and blog, Life on the Bookshelf.

♥ Julia Denos’s official website and blog, The Cinnamon Rabbit. Don’t miss this special behind-the-scenes peek at Julia’s process.

♥ LOOK! You can purchase a “Little Dresses” print at Julia’s Shop! You know you want one ☺. . .

♥ Seven-Imp interviews featuring  Boni and Julia.

♥ Glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Wall Street Journal, and Kirkus.



*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2011 Boni Ashburn, illustrations © 2011 Julia Denos. Published by Abrams BFYR. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “picture book crush: i had a favorite dress by boni ashburn and julia denos

  1. Oh, adorable! I am trying, at this late stage in the game, to learn to be girly. It’s all uphill so far, but I think if I had this book…


    1. Hee, yes this book would inspire you :). But you don’t necessarily have to be “girly.” The message is really about embracing what you have at any given moment and making the most of it.♥


  2. sprightly, contemporary girly-girl adaptation of the familiar “Something from Nothing” Jewish folktale

    Presumably, this is also where Joseph Had a Little Overcoat came from? That’s a fun one, too, on the same principle. The new girl-centric version will surely attract a new (and very different) audience, however. Looks beautiful! (I wish I could think of someone to give the print to!)


    1. Yes, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is based on the same tale. It really is a lovely book, so refreshing and modern :). Isn’t the print adorable?


  3. Oh wow, I lovelovelove the illustrations! Truly beautiful. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. Will search for this in our library. Thank you so much for sharing.


  4. LOVE these illustrations and want every one of these dresses! (My favorite dress was long, pink gingham with a white smocked top and when I had to hand it down to my cousins, it practically destroyed me.)


    1. Oh, I love gingham — and smocking! I also had dresses I really loved that got passed down — my mom didn’t sew so there was no recycling like in this story.


    1. Me too — I’m sure Julia’s Lyles are one of a kind. I keep telling her to keep a close eye on them, lest a munchkin “borrows” them when she isn’t looking 🙂 . . .


  5. This looks gorgeous! It’s on the hold shelf for me at the library right now — can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the interview, Jama, and congrats to Boni and Julia on your beautiful book! And, Boni, your Lily sure is a cutie . . .


    1. Hi Linda!

      Glad to hear you’re going to read the book soon. You’ll love it and may find yourself twirling around the house in all your favorite dresses . . . 🙂


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