I have tended to avoid children’s books that proclaim themselves to be ‘for girls’ (or boys), as they usually conform to traditional stereotypes. But Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – a collection of feminist bedtime stories – is different. And is the children’s book of our dreams.
Within its pages, it features 100 feminist bedtime stories about the lives of 100 women (or girls), from past and present. Included for being extraordinary in some way, each story is also illustrated by female artists from across the globe.
It began life as a Kickstarter from US based Italians Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. They were seeking enough for a print run of a thousand copies. It quickly gained traction, and raised over $1 million (the most for any book Kickstarter I believe).
The format is of one page of text with an illustration on the opposing page. The prose is written in the style of a fairytale, with stories beginning with derivatives of ‘Once upon a time…’
The range of women in these feminist bedtime stories is remarkable – scientists, queens, musicians, campaigners, artists, pirates, and many more women & girls are featured. Many are world famous, a few legendary, some are obscure. Through their stories, the history of the struggle for gender equality is laid bare, in a way that is easily accessible to children – while also inspiring them with the life and work of some extraordinary potential role models.
The book itself is a lovely object to hold. Hardback, without a dustcover, it is printed on high quality paper with vibrant colours. This is a book to treasure.
Being an American book there is a clear US bias to the stories, but it has a far more international range of women than I expected. I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of TWO New Zealanders – WW2 spy Nancy Wake and suffragette Kate Sheppard – as my wife is from New Zealand, where our daughter was also born.
And what did our daughter think of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls? She loves it. Adores it. She begged us to keep reading more stories. She was inspired by mould-breaking scientists; delighted to learn about Joan Jett, and how she was behind one of her current favourite songs, Cherry Bomb (as heard in Guardians of the Galaxy); enraptured with so many of these tales, from super models and political leaders to warrior queens and pirates.
Also, extraordinary does not have to mean they’re all totally admirable. There was the widowed and pregnant Japanese queen Jingu – who led an army to successfully invade Korea. “I’m not sure whether she’s good or bad”, said our daughter after hearing her tale. Much more problematic to me is the inclusion of Margaret Thatcher, who probably did more to harm women’s equality than any other UK Prime Minister in my lifetime. I couldn’t bite my tongue while reading that one to her.
I was also uneasy with the way transgenderism was raised in the story of Coy Mathis, who’s presented as someone whose love of pink and rejection of ‘boys’ clothes is something that defines Coy as a girl. This kind of flies in the face of everything we are teaching our daughter about colours and clothing in relation to gender. It shows the potential pitfalls of breaking down a story too simply.
But even when I am uneasy about anything, they are at the very least great conversation starters and a wonderful way for us to talk abut so many different themes and ideas with our 5-year-old daughter.
And the book had a pretty immediate effect – the stories of the two female pirates were a direct influence on our daughter attending a Pirates and Princesses party – as a pirate!
I cannot recommend Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls highly enough. I feel it’s an essential purchase for any household with kids, as this collection of feminist bedtime stories should be read by boys as well as girls. And adults too. I had as much of a blast learning about these women as my daughter did.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has an RRP of £17.99.
Disclosure: We were sent a copy by Penguin UK for the purposes of this review.