Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

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Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is an exciting new book for kids which is creating a stir. When I was a kid it was hard to find books with inspirational female characters for younger children. Michael Foreman’s All the King’s Horses was one of our favourites, as well as his retellings of classic fairy tales (both criminally out of print for years), but similar offerings were hard to come by.

Thankfully there has been a significant rise in the number of books with strong women as their main characters in recent years (Andrea Beaty’s books deserve a special mention) and I can recommend the invaluable A Mighty Girl website for more suggestions.

It is worth watching one of the YouTube videos that accompanied Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s plea for Kickstarter crowdfunding for their book (“The Ugly Truth of Children’s Books”). A mum and daughter stand in front of a bookcase filled with some of the most popular kids’ books. They remove those with no men (three) then those with no women (76), then those with no speaking female characters, then those where the only female characters are inanimate princesses and so on. The results are pretty devastating.

Favilli and Cavallo wrote Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls in order to challenge some of these gender stereotypes so common in literature for children and to celebrate the real-life achievements of 100 women. Their hope is to inspire young women to “dream big and aim high”.

It is a beautifully illustrated book of 100 women’s stories written in a fairy tale “once upon a time” format which is engaging and, most importantly, fun. The illustrations, some of which are breathtaking, were done by 100 different women artists from around the world. Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks are in there, alongside Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Ada Lovelace and Serena Williams.

My eight year old is studying ancient Egypt at school and was very proud to take Goodnight Stories in to share the little known story of Hatshepsut with her class. Apparently it is the authors’ favourite story in the book too. “She was the first female pharaoh of Egypt long before Cleopatra,” Favilli says. “We feel her story is really exemplary of the many extraordinary women whose achievements often go unnoticed.”

Goodnight Stories isn’t all great. There are some dubious additions and many of the real heroes who changed our world would not be at all happy to sit on the same pages as Margaret Thatcher and Coco Chanel. Some of the entries are overly simplistic and the book might well have benefitted from suggestions for further reading at the back (and even source notes). There is a note at the beginning of the book, however, explaining, “This is a work of creative nonfiction.

"It is a collection of heart-warming and thought-provoking bedtime stories inspired by the life and adventures of one hundred heroic women.”

It isn’t supposed to be an encyclopaedia; it is supposed to be an inspiration. It has definitely been that for my girls. This book should be on every young person’s bookshelf and in a prime place in every school.