What happens if you gender-swap characters when reading to your kids?

If you switch the genders of characters around while reading to your kids, do they get confused? Or do they just take it for granted that Tolkien was writing The Hobbit about a girl named Bilbo?

Image by Lanimalu.

Over at Last Word on Nothing, Michelle Nijhuis explains what she did to change The Hobbit around, and how easy it turned out to be:

And you know what? 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....

I started to fool around with other books and their major and minor characters, sometimes by request and sometimes not. InThe 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. In the Narnia series, Peter Pevensie and his sister Susan made the pronoun switch.

To learn more about what she found out from this experiment, and how it made these books better, check out her essay. [via David Brin]