~ A Book Review: Bill’s New Frock, Anne Fine ~

Posted: October 30, 2020 in book review, Book reviewing, books, children's writing, creativity, Fiction, gender equality, honesty, kids, Middle Grade, morality, readers, school, Story, words, Writing
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I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2020, Bill’s New Frock, by Anne Fine. At just 90 pages, the small chapter book is a nice quick read for the middle grade level, yet still thought-provoking. The simple premise of a boy waking up as a girl and spending the day as the opposite gender is rich material. Bill feels out-of-sorts because he is in the wrong body, and through observing with a child’s innocent eyes the differences in the way people treat him, we see ourselves and society as we know it. This is deep stuff. Of her fiction, Anne Fine says, “A lot of my work, even for fairly young readers, raises quite serious social issues.”

It must have struck a chord with readers, because young readers in Leicestershire, England, chose Bill’s New Frock as their favourite title for 2012. They thought it reflected the Olympic values, being inspiration, determination, courage, respect, equality, friendship and excellence. Bill’s New Frock was winner of the Smarties Award (6 – 8 section) in 1990, the Carnegie Medal 1990, the Nottinghamshire Libraries Award 1990, and the Leicestershire Children’s Book Prize in 2012. First printed in 1989, they reprinted Bills New Frock in 2007 and again in 2012. Egmont reissued the popular novel in June 2017 as an Egmont Modern Classic. People still consider this book highly relevant to today’s generation, as the story speaks about gender stereotyping and those who feel they are born in the wrong gender.

The story begins, When Bill Simpson woke up on Monday morning, he found he was a girl. We readers then tag along as Bill must wear a pink frilly dress to school, and we groan in dismay as he slowly wrecks his beautiful dress throughout the course of the day. It adds a subtle layering of metaphor, as hand-in-hand with the stains and damage happening to Bill’s frock, we observe his candid reactions when he discovers the inequities that go along with his sudden change of gender. As a girl, Bill hardly gets into trouble for punching Rohan while Rohan gets told off for kicking Bill. With humour and the child’s view, we look at ourselves anew. It is the age-old requirement of good fiction, to hold up the window and the mirror. We feel Bill’s confusion as he finds even the educational expectations of him have changed. While Bill gets growled at by the teacher for messy work, and the boy sitting beside him whose work is far messier gets praised with the comment ‘well done,’ we readers say ‘unfair’ and sigh with memories of our own. Bill’s New Frock is a gentle traipse through the minefield of socialization without ever being heavy-handed. Child-centered, it never once loses sight of what it is, an amusing children’s story.

I admire Anne Fine’s effortless style. The second Children’s Laureate is an author for children of all ages, with over fifty books to her credit. She has also written for adults to considerable acclaim. As a young woman, having tried various jobs, Fine discovered her talent as a writer by accident. “In 1971 my first daughter Ione was born. Unable to get to the library in a snowstorm to change my library books, in desperation I sat down and started to write a novel. Clearly this was the right job for me, for I have never stopped writing for more than a few weeks since.” Clearly!

Bill’s New Frock is a thoughtfully rendered child-friendly look at gender. A tricky topic handled well.

My rating: Four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol


Whatever I’m writing, I always end up with the kind of book I would have loved to read (if only someone else had bothered to write it for me). ~ Anne Fine


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  1. I’ve bookmarked it. Definitely a story I’d like to see my grandchildren read. Curious why you gave it 3.5. Or is that score out of 4?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      I wondered if I had rated it too low! I felt when I started out reviewing books that if I gave books the full five stars from the beginning, then there was nowhere else to go for the truly stellar books as time went on. So I wanted to leave room to go higher. As a result, I think I’ve gained a tendency to rate on the low side ever since. I felt that Bill’s New Frock was four stars, so I might change it accordingly.

      Thanks Joylene!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cleemckenzie says:

    I’m not a fan of the star system. Like you, I always feel I need room to express my appreciation for those stellar books, yet I really enjoy so many of those I rate with 3 or 4 stars. Besides, the genres are different and how can I compare a middle grade story with an adult piece of fiction?

    Anyway we do what we can.

    Thanks for reviewing this one. I’m impressed by the subject matter and it seems the author handled it quite well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      I go back and forth between liking the star system and not liking it. I added mine from the beginning of this year, when I started reviewing regularly, because in all the other places, like Goodreads and sites where you can leave reviews they either give stars or ask you to rate how many stars you would give it. So it seems to be recognizable way for people to rate things, but as you say, sometimes it’s impossible to compare books!


  3. emaginette says:

    I love reading middle grade stories. They are such a hoot. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 1 person

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