See Inside the New Book Teaching Girls They Can Change the World

'Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls' features prominent women including Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai.
(Photo: Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
May 15, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

An imaginary princess rescued by true love’s kiss—or saved from a life of domestic servitude by a guy and a glass slipper. Despite the girl-power success of the movie Frozen, there’s no denying that most fairy tales depict traditional gender roles. Two female entrepreneurs hope to give kids an alternative with a children’s book about prominent women who have defied the odds to become world-renowned scientists, artists, and athletes—all without the help of Prince Charming.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories of inspiring women throughout history, from Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th-century naturalist and scientific illustrator, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, to Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee training in Berlin for the 2016 Olympics.

“Traditional fairy tales always show women and girls who need a prince, a hunter, or a brother to be saved,” Elena Favilli, a creator of the book, which is geared to six- to 10-year-olds, wrote in an email to TakePart. “We wanted to offer a new type of fairy tale, where examples of real women can inspire young girls to explore, learn, and dream without limits. We think this is what a modern fairy tale should teach.”

Favilli and book cocreator Francesca Cavallo have been working in children’s media for the past five years through their California-based company, Timbuktu Labs. They’ve created a digital magazine, apps, and play spaces for kids. But they wanted to create a project focused on empowering girls.

“We’ve often wished we had grown up surrounded by more female role models,” Favilli wrote.

(Photo: Courtesy Timbuktu Labs)

To fund the book, the duo turned to Kickstarter, seeking $40,000 to commission illustrators. Within days, the pair had surpassed that, and with more than a week left before the Kickstarter closes, they’ve amassed nearly 10 times their goal.

Favilli and Cavallo believe the resounding support is because Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls fills a void in children’s illustrated books. A 2011 Florida State University study explored 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 and found that female protagonists were largely missing. Female characters, both animal and human, were present in a maximum of 33 percent of books published each year, but male characters were present in up to 100 percent of the books published annually.

(Photo: Courtesy Timbuktu Labs)

The page-long profiles are accompanied by illustrated portraits, each commissioned by a different female artist from around the world. The pair attempted to feature women from diverse backgrounds and having a variety of careers.

“One of our favorites is Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh, who ruled Egypt long before Cleopatra and whose memory was destroyed after her death out of fear that her success could encourage other women to seek power,” Favilli explained. “Her story is particularly symbolic, because women’s accomplishments tend to be forgotten—or simply diminished—much more easily than men’s.”

(Photo: Courtesy Timbuktu Labs)

While Favilli and Cavallo hope Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls inspires girls to shoot for their dreams, they also feel it’s a valuable book for boys. The book teaches boys about “female leads who are strong, smart, flawed, emotionally complex, and able to fight their own battles,” Favilli said.

As for female readers, Favilli hopes they develop more of a “rebel attitude” and gain the courage to try, fail, and try again.