Once upon a time, there was princess who, instead of waiting for a prince in shining armour, decided to take her fate into her own hands. Hold on though, it wasn’t just one princess; it was a 100. And they weren’t actual princesses either – except for Elizabeth I, who just happened to be from royalty – but rather outstanding women through history. Two beautifully designed and recently published books portray the life of these women, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. 100 tales of extraordinary women” and “Bad Girls throughout History”, and both are well worth a closer look.
It doesn’t get a whole lot more badass than getting yourself erased from the Bible, right? Do you know who the first self-made female millionaire was? And did you know that Hedy Lamarr wasn’t just a famous Hollywood actor in the 40s, but also the inventor of what we know as Wi-Fi today?
For her book “Bad Girls throughout History”, author and illustrator Ann Shen looked for what she calls trailblazers, women who were the very first in their fields. “Being the first in anything, creating a path where none existed, is hard. Being the first woman in anything is harder, because you have the extra hurdles of all the men who are already in the arena, and the rest of society looking at you and thinking, how dare you? Who do you think you are?” Ann said in an interview.
Logically, her book begins with the mother of all bad girls: Lilith. According to legend, she was Adam’s first wife and was kicked out of paradise for demanding equality. Her very existence was subsequently scrubbed from the Bible as well. Ann’s selection includes a lot of familiar names, but also plenty of women readers are unlikely to have heard of. They helped write history though, and history would do well to remember them for their contributions.
“This is a book about women. This is a book about girls who had a ton of fear and personal ?aws and faced insurmountable obstacles but did amazing things anyway. This is a book about those who came before us, who knocked up against that glass ceiling and made a tiny ?ssure or a full-on crack,” Ann writes in the introduction to the book. “When I set out to write this book, I thought I knew what I was getting into. But after spending time with every single one of these ladies, I am profoundly changed. I feel the gravity of their courage and accomplishments, these women on whose shoulders we stand today. Through the process of writing the book, I came to realize that we all come from this daring tribe of women, and that like them I need to use my voice to do better in this world. I hope that in some small way this book changes you too.”
“You are never too old, too small, or too late to live the life you’re meant to lead. Especially if it means rewriting the rules to do it.”
A must-read for little girls, and especially for little boys
“Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” is a like a guidebook on breaking the rules. It portrays some of the same protagonists as Ann Shen, but in a language easy for children to understand.
Mathematician Ada Lovelace, pirate Grace O’Malley, the Bronte sisters, Coco Chanel, Evita Peron and Frieda Kahlo all rebelled their way onto the pages of this book, which moves beyond the gender stereotypes that still seem to dominate children’s literature today to show another whole world. A world designed to inspire girls to reach for the stars, where anything is possible. Its core message: Never let others keep you from doing what you love.
“To the rebel girls of the world: Dream bigger. Aim higher. Fight harder. And, when in doubt, remember you are right.”
The book was written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, both with many years of experience in children’s literature. Together they founded Timbuktu Labs, which they describe as a children’s media innovation lab for progressive parents. They developed apps for children and an iPad magazine for children ages 6-10 that has won multiple awards. Over the course of their work, they grew increasingly frustrated that early childhood entertainment still adhered to the role models of the 50s: “We realized that 95% of the books and TV shows we grew up with lacked girls in prominent positions. We did some research and discovered that this hadn’t changed much over the past 20 years, so we decided to do something about it.” Who is usually the hero in children’s television series and books? You can bet it is not the princess.
The book was financed via crowdfunding and it was one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns of recent years. Since March, it has been available in bookstores around the world and on Amazon. The resonance their crowdfunding campaign generated took even these award-winning entrepreneurs by surprise: “This amount of trust is not something women get to experience very often. We do not take it for granted. How could we? Most of the extraordinary women featured in this book never experienced this kind of trust. No matter the importance of their discoveries, the audacity of their adventures, the width of their genius – they were constantly belittled, forgotten, in some cases almost erased from history. It is important that girls understand the obstacles that lie in front of them. It is just as important that they know these obstacles are not insurmountable.”
It’s just as important too, of course, that these types of books are not just read by girls. Boys need to be exposed to these wonderful women if we are to successfully break down stereotypes, or, ideally, never allow them to develop in the first place. And for the big boys in your life, the husbands and fathers, “Bad Girls throughout History” is an excellent place to start.
Elena and Francesca have a vision and hope of a better future: “A world where gender will not define how big you can dream, how far you can go. A world where each of us will be able to say with confidence: ‘I am free’.”