The book is called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, but reading a handful of its 100 stories about some of the most brilliant women in history at bedtime might not be a good idea.
Featuring spies, pirates, astronauts, activists, scientists, writers, sports stars and more, many of the stories are so thrilling and uplifting your child’s heart might beat a little faster, her mind racing with possibilities. If she leaps out of bed to get to work, blame the authors.
Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli launched their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and IndieGogo, with the aim of raising US$40,000 to create and print 1,000 copies. They ended up raising more than US$1 million, with the book becoming the most highly funded original book in the history of crowdfunding.
The pair had moved to the US from Italy in 2011 and had formed their own children’s media company, Timbuktu Labs, and created an iPad magazine and several apps.
Working in children’s media, “we saw how children’s media and books were still packed with gender stereotypes, and we really wanted to create something that could break the rules, with a new type of female protagonist, and examples of strong women from the past and present who have done incredible things. We really wanted to show the true variety of fields, disciplines and jobs, just to show the full capabilities of women and to inspire young girls to believe they can try to do anything,” Cavallo says.
In less than two weeks, their video advertising for the book has 24 million views on Facebook.
It shows a mother and daughter removing books from a bookcase according to a range of criteria: Is there a female character? Does she speak? Do they have aspirations, or are they just waiting for a prince? By the end there are few books left.
Although it was described as an “experiment,” it was not exactly — the bookcase was not a randomly chosen one, but was set up to represent figures from studies into gender disparity.
The data it referenced is alarming enough — 25 percent of 5,000 books studied had no female characters; across children’s media, less than 20 percent showed women with a job, compared with more than 80 percent of male characters.
“It does something to you,” Favilli said. “When you never see someone making the headlines, or a protagonist in a book or a cartoon, it becomes more difficult to imagine yourself in a leading role or position.”
At readings they have done, children of both genders are consistently surprised to learn that “women have done so many things.”
If you grew up reading the Pippi Longstocking books, or the Paper Bag Princess (published in 1980, it is still one of the most famous books to subvert the prince-and-princess format), you might be dismayed to hear that children’s books have not seen much progress. If you watched that video on Facebook, you might assume that children’s publishing appears to be in a state of crisis about gender.
That is not strictly true. A look at the Web site A Mighty Girl, a database of empowering children’s fiction, reveals about 3,000 books in which girls are the central characters.
“There are a lot of them out there, but one of the biggest problems is that people don’t know where to find them,” said Carolyn Danckaert, who founded the site with her partner after struggling to find good books for their young nieces.