We’re all familiar with the fairy tale model: the princess or damsel in distress waits patiently at home for a dashing prince or noble steed to rescue her. We were told this story again and again growing up, the message being: boys are heroes and girls are there to be saved.
In response to the gender stereotyping so prevalent in children’s stories, Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo created ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ – a feminist revival of the fairy tale, where female role models who 'aim higher; fight harder' are at the centre of the narrative.
The book is a compilation of 100 stories of heroic women who have positively shaped history. From Cleopatra and Frida Kahlo to Maya Angelou and Nina Simone, the pages tell the inspirational stories of female scientists, designers, queens, writers, activists, artists, athletes, authors, explorers and more.
The mini-biographies are still told in fairy tale form - full of ‘once upon a time’ and ‘many years ago’ – but instead of ‘one day my prince will come’, the powerful narratives are about inspirational and intelligent women who show perseverance and initiative and challenge gender stereotypes. The book has also given exposure to over 60 female illustrators whose portraits of the women are diverse, dynamic and bring the stories to life.
Illustrations from 'Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls'
Before ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’, Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo created ‘If Cinderella Were A Guy…’ – the viral video which hypothetically replaced Cinderella with a boy (he cleaned the floor, was picked on by his stepbrothers, wept, was visited by a fairy godfather and sent to the ball to meet his princess). The video then screeched to a halt with the words, ‘We wouldn’t read this to our sons. Why read it to our daughters?’
The message was clear – offering little boys a narrative where the male protagonist is pushed around and can't stick up for himself is counterproductive, so why should little girls be taught to aspire to be like the princess who is not autonomous, can't take her destiny into her own hands and needs saving - whether by a boy, a prince or a mouse…
Sure, Disney has done their bit in creating stories with stronger female protagonists – Moana even passed the Bechdel test – but bedtime stories which tell of real women shattering the glass ceiling and challenging patriarchy should be read to all children - not just to little girls, but to little boys, too.
As the authors say: 'by any means, read these stories to your sons! It is crucial that they learn to identify and empathise also with female heroes.'
'Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls', £9 from Amazon
READ MORE: 15 Unmissable Books Of 2017 So Far