Several years ago when I was asked to read Jack and the Beanstalk to a class of 7-year-olds, I couldn’t help wondering how the little girls sitting in front of me understood the story in relation to themselves. To be sure, they were all eager to respond to my interactive prompts, but what they were hearing was a traditional story of male heroic actions, some of which seemed more questionable than admirable. In any event, we were halfway through the story when a very specific question popped into my head: I wonder what Jill was doing while Jack climbed the beanstalk?
“For a long time Jill stood looking down the now empty road. She didn’t know whether she had done a good thing or a bad thing. Now that the old woman had left and the three apples had been eaten, she was more confused than ever. She sat down on a tree stump and felt a little tear forming in the corner of one eye.
‘Why are you so sad?’ she heard a very tiny voice ask. She looked around but saw no one. ‘Did you just lose someone? I remember when my daughter moved to town. I wanted to cry for over a week. Sometimes I still want to cry.’
Jill stood up and looked around. She still saw no one. ‘Hello?’ she said uncertainly. ‘Hellooo!’ she said again. ‘Is there someone there?’
‘I’m down here,’ the little voice squeaked. ‘Look down here.’ So she looked down at her feet and there she saw standing right in front of her a little grey mouse.”