Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bilbo Baggins Gets a "Makeover"

I've never been one to really pay much attention to the sex of a character, unless it's super relevant to a storyline. A character's gender is a different story, of course, as that is typically apparent in the first few pages of meeting him or her.

However, there are some rare cases where a character is quite gender neutral, the only indication of his or her sex being the pronouns that are used. Sometimes it just doesn't matter if a character is male or female. A woman in Colorado proved this point when her daughter insisted that The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins was a girl. 

A Mighty Girl has the scoop:
Michelle Nijhuis ran into an unexpected challenge when reading her 5-year-old daughter “The Hobbit”: “My five-year-old insists that Bilbo Baggins is a girl.” So what did she do? She had the simple realization that “it’s just a pronoun. My daughter wants Bilbo to be a girl, so a girl she will be.” 
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that: “The first time she made this claim, I protested. Part of the fun of reading to your kids, after all, is in sharing the stories you loved as a child. And in the story I knew, Bilbo was a boy.” But when her daughter persisted, insisting that she “start reading the book the right way,” Nijhuis’ reservations quickly fell away: “The switch was easy. Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender -- and neither does anyone else.” 
The gender disparity in children’s literature remains high -- according to a 2011 study of 6,000 children's books, only 31 percent had central female characters. And, as Nijhuis points out, “more insidiously, children’s books with girl protagonists sometimes celebrate their heroines to a fault. Isn’t it amazing that a girl did these things, they seem to say -- implying that these heroines are a freakish exception to their gender, not an inspiration for readers to follow.” 
Emboldened by the success of the swap with Bilbo, Nijhuis tried the same technique with some of her other children’s favorites: “In The Secret Garden, Dickon, the animal-loving adventurer who rescues Mistress Mary, became Mary’s best friend Diana. In the Finn Family Moomintroll books, the Snork Maiden and her brother the Snork traded genders... Friends tell me they pull similar tricks while reading to their sons and daughters: Women who farm become not ‘farmer’s wives’ but ‘farmers.’ Boy animal characters become girls, and vice versa.” 
Nijhuis encourages parents to test this trick out, so both daughters and sons “get to hear about a world as full of women as the real one -- and as free of stereotypes as we’d like ours to be. Kidlit may be catching up to our kids, but we don’t have to wait for it.” And she hopes that, “years from now, when [my daughter] has a chance to take her own unexpected journey, she’ll remember the story of Bilbo -- and be a little more inclined to say yes.” 
You can read more about Nijhuis’ experience gender-swapping classic literature on her blog at http://bit.ly/1dreLAD and check out her new article on updating classics for our times at http://bit.ly/1mYgg1c  
A Mighty Girl was founded to provide parents, educators, and young readers with a resource to help them find high-quality books starring smart, confident, and courageous Mighty Girls! If you mouse over “Books” on our main menu bar, you can open our book menu and quickly be able to find girl-empowering stories for children and teens that encourage almost any interest, or you can browse our entire book collection of over 2,000 titles athttp://www.amightygirl.com/books 
If you like the idea of giving classic stories a girl-empowering twist, you might want to start with our selection of over 150 fairy tales and folk tales, each featuring a Mighty Girl at the heart of the action, at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/fiction/fairy-tales-folktales 

See the original post HERE (FB post dated 7/21/14)

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