This past January, one of my students came into school clutching Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Telling bedtime stories of inspirational women throughout history, this book re-invents the definition of a fairy tale. The stories and illustrations leapt off the page, bringing history alive for young readers.
I was amazed to learn the backstory behind the book itself. In 2016, the book topped one million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Now, the authors are back with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, due out later this year, as well as a Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast! The Kickstarter campaign for the new projects has already raised over $417,000.
There are so many things that make this book a must-read for students. So many of the stories readers encounter in this book aren’t being taught in history class. In Rebel Girls, students can learn about Ada Lovelace, the Brontë sisters, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and more. Any child can find a role model within the pages of this book.
To celebrate the success of Rebel Girls and the release of Rebel Girls 2, I interviewed authorsElena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. I knew they would have lots to say about the impact these stories can have on the world!
The first women we researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra and nobody has ever heard of, and Maria Sibylla Merian, the German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. These are the first two stories that we tested with our Timbuktu newsletter, in the months leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. We are particularly fond of them not only because they are wonderful, unknown stories, but also because they helped us understand we were onto something really big. Our readers responded enthusiastically to those stories, asking for more.
We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.
There are so many ways that kids can change the world now without waiting until they get older. We get messages from kids and their families about different things they are doing to change the world already. Some are helping to start Rebel Girls clubs to promote these strong women and help others learn about them. Others are using the book as inspiration to write their own Rebel Girls stories-about their lives or about the lives of others and share it with their families and friends. Outside of the book, we hear about readers volunteering their time, raising money for great causes, or working to be inclusive to classmates at school. We’re also proud and excited to hear about the positive things kids are doing.
The position of women has significantly improved over time in our society, but there is definitely still lots to do. Especially because no accomplishment, no matter how big, can ever be given for granted.
In 2017, Children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. These are stories about real women, which is different than a lot of goodnight stories about fictional characters. We wanted to feature painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, and political leaders-rebel girls whose actions have changed the course of history.
Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offered them a very narrow representation of who they can be. The illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look like. This reflects in a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.
For more on Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, you can check out the Rebel Girls website.