Raise a rebel by night: Elena and Francesca put together a crowd-sourced book ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’

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Have you read about Cinderfella? The man, mistreated by his step-brothers and father, rescued by a princess only because he fit into a glass shoe? More importantly, have you read this story to your son? Unlikely, right?

In a bid to present more real-life role models, and not damsels-in-distress-rescued-by-the-handsome-prince, to the children of the world, girls, boys and trans-kids included – Elena Favilli (34) and Francesca Cavallo (33) have put together a crowd-sourced book titled, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls (Penguin Random House). It holds 100 tales of women from all walks of life, perfect to read to your girl child at night.

The book is in an easy to read format, with mesmerising illustrations for each story, which is just a page long. And, beyond the better-known women who conquered their worlds – Aung San Suu Kyi, Helen Keller, and Rani Lakshmi Bai, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles (in pic) – there are lesser known mentions.

There is, for instance, Grace O’Malley (1530-1603) who lived in Ireland and became a pirate when her castle was under attack, and Margaret Hamilton (in pic), an American born in 1936, a computer scientist who led the team that programmed the code which allowed the Apollo 11 spacecraft to land safely on the moon. But, the most touching story is that of Coy Mathis. Born a boy in 2007, “Coy loved dresses, the colour pink, and shiny shoes… One night, Coy asked his mom, ‘When are we going to the doctor to have me fixed into a girl-girl?” The story discusses how Coy’s parents asked everyone to treat the child like a girl and how they got the school to allow her to use the girl’s bathroom. In an email interview from California, where the authors are currently based, Favilli and Cavallo write, “Transgender girls are girls, so it was important for us to include a story like that one [into the anthology]. Particularly, when we discovered Coy’s story, we thought it was perfect because it’s the story of a young girl who explains her process in her own words, so it allows to bring attention to a particularly complex theme in a very simple and natural way.”

Having worked in the children’s media space for five years, the authors say, they witnessed from the inside how gender stereotypes still permeate books for children of all ages. “Parents are offered little resources to counter this trend and they are especially concerned about the lack of strong female role models in children’s media. It took one year in total, including researching and designing the campaign.”

The book, they write, features original artwork from 60 female artists commissioned to illustrate stories that reinvent fairy tales to inspire girls and boys. “The decision to seek out female artists was intentional. We think it’s our duty to give voice to the amazing work that female artists are creating every day, in every corner of the globe.”

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Pic/Karsten Lemm
Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Pic/Karsten Lemm

While the authors didn’t speak to any of their subjects while researching the book, some role models, did connect with them later. “We’re in touch with Ann Makosinski (who invented a flashlight that functions on body heat) and Eufrosina Cruz (mexican activist and politician).”

The first women they researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra; and Maria Sibylla Merian, a German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. “These are the first two stories that we tested in Timbuktu Magazine, the only iPad magazine for children in the world, which we built in our kitchen.”

And to parents who think this book is meant only for their daughters, not sons, Favilli and Cavallo say: “Many people think this is just for girls because of the title. That’s not true. We chose this title because we believe that focusing on one gender does not exclude the other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they grew up in a world where boys didn’t find something demeaning just because it read ‘for girls’ in the title? (Besides, boys have loved these stories!)”

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