Stories about 100 heroic women

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo on their terrific tome that celebrates being rebel girls in every way

rebel girls

Some stories lull children to sleep. Some keep them awake through the night. And others sprinkle dreams into their lives and inspire them. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo firmly falls in the last category. “To the rebel girls of the world: Dream bigger; aim higher; fight harder; And, when in doubt remember, You are right,” write the authors in the front of the book. Your children couldn’t ask for a better book to be tucked in with during bed time.

Rebel Girls (Penguin Random House) started as a crowdfunded project and is now a gorgeous tome, which makes most bedtime tales passé. Like all classic tales, it starts with “Once upon a time”, and goes on to narrate the inspiring stories of 100 heroic women. The diverse list includes Ada Lovelace, Amelia Earhart, Balkissa Chaibou, Isabell Allende, Lakshmi Bai, Malala Yousafzai, Mary Kom, Nina Simone, Ruth Parks, Wangari Maathai, and Zaha Hadid, weaving its way from history to contemporary times. Scientists, artists, explorers, designers, writers, queens, and activists find space between its pages. Sixty female artists from the world have illustrated the book, including Priya Kuriyan and Samidha Gunjal from India.

Hailing from Italy, Favilli and Francesca Cavallo moved to California in 2011. Together, they built the first iPad magazine for children, Timbuktu Magazine, in their kitchen. Over email, Bijal Vachharajani talks to the authors about their book that’s sure to fuel little girls’ and boys’ dreams.

How did the idea of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls come about?

We had been working in the children’s media space for the past five years and 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. That’s why we decided to create this book.

It’s important for girls to see female role models. It helps them become more confident and set bigger goals for themselves. We’re both in our early 30s, we’re female entrepreneurs, and we know firsthand how hard it is to succeed, to be considered, to be given a chance. Research shows that by the time girls reach elementary school, they already have less confidence in themselves than boys. That is why changing the narrative early on is so important.

It’s overwhelming to see the kind of support that you’ve got – did you expect it?

Before the launch we had tested out the interest for Rebel Girls by sending samples of some of the stories and art in Timbuktu’s newsletter. The campaign immediately took off and the book became the most funded original book in the entire history of crowdfunding.

We worked for eight months on the campaign. We rewrote the script 16 times, and we built a community interested in girls’ empowerment in the months leading to the campaign. We’re a digital-first company, so our experience with digital marketing helped us a lot to craft a campaign that could speak to wide audiences across the globe.

This is the most important thing we’ve ever worked on. It comes from a very personal place for both of us. We both deeply care about women’s rights and we wanted our work to have an impact on female empowerment. We want to get this book on the nightstand of every girl, because we’re sure it will help them make big inspirational dreams and encourage them to fight for who they are and what they want to accomplish.

Tell us the process of putting together the book – it seems like a giant task.

It took one year in total, including researching and designing the campaign. 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.

The book 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. We also wanted to have a huge variety of styles so that each woman could emerge in her own unique personality. Media tend to represent women in a very narrow way, for us it was important to showcase that femininity comes in many different ways and that there is not only one way to be a woman, and a rebel girl.

You have a bit of India involvement in there.

Because we value diversity so much, we wanted the team to embody the same values of the book. That is why we assembled a very diverse team to work on the book, in order to have a variety of perspectives when writing the stories. It was great to work with Anita Roy as an editor and we found the Indian stories incredibly inspiring! We want to find more for the next volume!

How has the reaction to the book been?

We have gotten so much positive feedback from girls AND boys. Boys love these stories, too. Many girls and their families write to us about their favorite story. They like that it’s not stories about traditional princesses. Princesses typically need a prince, a brother or a hunter to be saved. Our stories show examples of real women who achieved extraordinary results in every field imaginable. They are a tremendous source of inspiration because they encourage young girls to explore, learn and dream without limits. We’ve even received pictures that girls have drawn of their favorite women.

What were the kind of books you grew up reading and that inspired you?

We were told all kinds of stories, mostly classics. Pinocchio, Gulliver, Mowgli, and the Grimm’s Fairy tales. Our mothers have always been our strongest role models, and our grandmothers too. We both come from families with strong women. Serena Williams, Hillary Clinton, and J.K Rowling are our role models today.

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