“Once there was a Mexican girl whose name was Frida,” begins one of the 100 fairytale reinventions included in the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Recently, a family friend bought each of my daughters a copy as a gift and we have been reading these stories at bedtime ever since.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo became the most funded book in Kickstarter crowdfunding history and number five on the New York Times Children’s Best Sellers list. As written on their website, this “is a collection of illustrated stories that celebrate extraordinary women. Painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, political leaders… from every corner of the globe!”
Each night when I read these stories to my daughters I try to see how far I can make it before my eyes get a bit misty and my voice chokes up. How incredible it is to have a collection of stories by females, about females and for…? Well, this is where it all got interesting.
Middle Daughter asked to take the book to school last week, to show her teacher. I said definitely and commented that perhaps her teacher would read a story to the class. She grew concerned; the boys in the class wouldn’t like a book like this, she told me, this book is for girls. I turned her concern around and asked her whether she found stories about boys interesting. And she looked at me like I had asked such a silly question. And of course, it should be.
But a recent study in the journal Science found that by the time girls reach the age of six, they are less likely than boys to view their own gender as innately brilliant. Was my daughter already starting to question the interest stories about girls could hold for both sexes? Where was this coming from?
Pointing to a study of 6 000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, which found that just 7.5% had female protagonists, the authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls reflected that not much has changed. “We realised that 95% of the books and TV shows we grew up with lacked girls in prominent positions… so we decided to do something about it.”
I think it’s crucial that we read stories like these to our sons too. It is so important that they learn to identify and empathise with female heroes as well as male ones. Girls are used to being sidekicks or props in books and manage to identify, without any trouble, with male protagonists. So it’s just right to expect boys to identify with female ones. Looking at the famous quote “Strong Women: May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them”, let’s consider how we can include young men in the conversation and trust them to find stories about interesting people interesting, no matter the gender of the protagonist. I’m happy to say that Middle’s teacher did read the stories to the class — and the boys enjoyed them as well. The lesson I hope my daughter takes from this is that not only are women interesting and valuable, but that men are too, and can be trusted to recognise these qualities in women.
And now to mention a few strong women in my life. Thank you to my Chronicle team, Anita Shenker, Tessa Epstein and Desrae Saacks for another wonderful year. I so appreciate your humour, your patience and your willingness to do what is needed to put out a quality product each month.
On behalf of my Chairman, Editorial Board and staff, I wish all our readers Shana Tova and a meaningful fast.