30 Day Book Challenge – Day Fifteen

Even as a little kid, I really enjoyed reading. I don’t really remember what kinds of books I read back in Infant’s School but I know I read a lot. I have vague memories of lunchtimes spent in the library devouring one book after another, and of a teacher talking to my mother during parent’s day about my reading level being at least three years older than my actual age group. I remember sitting in the seat beside my mother, looking up at her as my teacher asked her if I’d read “War and Peace” yet simply because of how many books I’d gone through in the school’s library.

But I was still a little kid, and the memories of being a little kid often fade quicker when there are more pressing things in an adult’s brain. That being said, I didn’t find it at all difficult to think of a book to talk about (if only briefly) for today’ challenge: one of the books you first remember really liking. I’ll never forget that book.

Bill’s New Frock
by Anne Fine

“Bill’s New Frock” follows the title character as one day he wakes up transformed into a girl. Given a brand new frilly pink frock to wear, Bill is sent to school for a day that turns out to be the worst he’s ever had. Being a young a boy, Bill is baffled by the way things are different for girls and quickly gets himself into trouble.

I was six years old when I first read this book, and it was the first time I was ever introduced to the reality of gender inequality. Looking back on it as an adult, it’s obviously a very low-key version of events because this is a child in a children’s novel experiencing all these things. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have an impact. My little brain was stunned because it shone a light on everything that was happening around me: girls weren’t allowed the play football at playtime with the boys, a substitute teacher yelled at me for going on a bike when I couldn’t ride it yet because I wanted to learn and continued to be horrible each and every time I went over to them and actually taught myself to ride because she didn’t think the bikes were suitable for girls, girls weren’t taken seriously when boys tried to look up their skirts…

It inspired me, even then.

My class was introduced to this book as a project. We were given a copy to read at school and were then told to draw a scene from the book as part of a competition. The winner’s artwork would be displayed in the local library and would attend an award’s ceremony hosted at Portsmouth Football Club’s home grounds, Fratton Park, where we’d get to meet the entire team at the time and a bunch of other things.

My drawing won first place.

I remember trying my damned hardest to get every detail right. I drew Bill in front of a mirror, in his new dress, staring dumbfoundedly at his reflection surrounded by everything I knew a little boy would have in their room thanks to my little brother.

I feel that, even now, “Bill’s New Frock” is an important book for children to read because it opens up a dialogue certain members of society seem to think children are incapable of having. Gender identity is something children are discovering by themselves every single day, and if one little book helps to make even one child feel as though they can talk to someone about how they feel then it’s done it’s job.

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