May these brave pioneers inspire you. May their portraits impress upon our daughters the solid belief that beauty manifests itself in all shapes and colors, and at all ages. May each reader know the greatest success is to live a life full of passion, curiosity, and generosity.
~ Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
If you are craving an antidote to the insipid, passive or absent role that girls often have in children’s media, you have a cure in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I just bought the beautifully illustrated hardcover collection of 100 kid-friendly tales of extraordinary women and girls around the world. While it features the amazing accomplishments of some women you recognize, like Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Aung San Suu Kyi, you will almost certainly encounter fabulous women you have never heard of (and then wonder why not), like Chinese astronomer Wang Zhenyi, Mexico’s first female doctor Mathilde Montoya, or Apache warrior Lozen.
While the book is heavy on American women (about 1/3 of the stories), it still portrays a wide range of backgrounds and paths. It is thrilling to see so many ethnicities, professions, and struggles represented, with historical women next to current figures. Thus Elizabeth I follows a transgender elementary student (although the language of her tale confuses biology with socially constructed gender identity, its inclusion nonetheless enhances the book’s contemporary relevance).
Learning about women who were mathematicians, models, race car drivers, pirates, queens, warriors, lawyers, weight lifters, and much, much more truly inspires the reader to imagine what’s possible for girls and women everywhere.
The book was the most funded book in crowdfunding history (getting well over $1 million from over 70 countries) which, while fantastic in some ways, also demonstrates how desperate we are for better stories for our girls. I’ve read all the fairytales to my kids (and then engaged in needed media literacy critiques of them), and I’ve also read the literature that says reading fairytales is good for them, but I am so, so grateful for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. It’s the ultimate “anti-princess” storybook, and thank goodness for its numerous portrayals of infinitely more interesting, generous, full-bodied, and brave role models for girls and women everywhere.
There’s not necessarily any “happily ever after” in these stories either. The barriers faced by the featured women are integral to their stories, and also to the story of the reader. As the book’s creators Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo explain in the preface:
No matter the importance of [the women’s] discoveries, the audacity of their adventures, the width of their genius – they were constantly belittled, forgotten, in some cases almost erased from history.
It is important that girls understand the obstacles that lie in front of them. It is just as important that they know these obstacles are not insurmountable. That not only can we find a way to overcome them, but that they can remove those obstacles for those who come after them, just like these great women did.
I’m reading this book to my daughter, of course, but I’m also reading it to my sons. Actually, I should read it to my husband, my uncles and aunts, and 4th grade teacher. We are all just as much in need of its revelations.
The book concludes with a space for the reader to write her own story and draw her own portrait. This is a perfect ending. One of the best things about the collection is its implicit invitation to discover more amazing women, in the world at large, as well as within our own histories and ourselves. How many of us are where and who we are because of the courageous and creative contributions of the women who came before us? It strikes me as a perfect homage to the amazing women of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to similarly discover and honour other great women, famous or not, and strive to their excellence ourselves.