A boy wakes up to suddenly find that he is a girl. He learns about the many differences in expectations for girls and boys.
Bill’s New Frock is an exceptional novel in that it can be used in every year at primary school with its multifaceted layers providing a different talking point every time it is read; true indicators of a “classic”, not that anything less is ever expected from the gifted children’s laureate, Anne Fine. Using a superbly surrealistic style, Fine’s book begins with the highly incongruous statement: “when Bill Simpson woke up on Monday morning, he found he was a girl.” This matter-of-fact statement instantly establishes the tone of the book as Bill is dressed in a pretty pink frock, has breakfast with his parents and completes a full day at school with his teachers, friends and even the local bully completely oblivious to his overnight gender change. Anne Fine uses this simple premise with accessible but dialogue and description rich language to explore the very serious issues of gender expectations and stereotypes. As Bill stumbles from disaster to disaster, confused and baffled with how daily life is turned upside down for him merely because he is perceived as a female, Fine provides many excellent points of discussion concerning what activities are considered “boys activities” and vice versa. For example, when Bill dares to leave the safe boundaries of the playground where the girls sit passively gossiping to interfere in the boys’ game of football, he is stunned by the hostile and even aggressive reaction he receives for this act of gender transgression. Similarly, the treatment he receives from his teachers who expect his work to be far neater than that of the boys and exclude him from any tasks that require physical exertion neatly outline the point that stereotyping is not confined to a single set of people, but is universal and very often an unconscious act. Any teacher or parent wishing to involve their class or children in Fine’s novel need only open with the question: “how would you feel if you woke up one morning and you were a boy/girl?” This will doubtlessly create a number of issues for debate and discussion in any primary aged class that can be fantastically illustrated with examples from the book.
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