bedtime stories

Bedtime Stories for Girls Who Want to Change the World

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Sara Vlemmings

Feminist, queer, Dutchie. Too optimistic for a pessimist. Red lipstick lover.

I grew up being read bedtime stories every night, which probably started my love for all things connected with books and writing. They were stories about a tiny dwarf, about two neighboring kids who got up to all sorts of things, stories about animals, and fairy tales. So, when this webstore I frequently visit kept recommending Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, I knew I had to buy it if only to see if this book was filled with stories that I would have listened to and read over and over again.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is written by two Italian women, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. The two women were partly inspired by their own entrepreneurship, which made them see that girls need female role models to realize their potential, because a lot of mainstream media lacks those. It led to a Kickstarter, which helped them realize the most funded original book in history of crowdfunding.

So understandably, when I got the book, I was kind of excited. I knew I wasn’t going to get a world class novel that would go on to win literature prizes and all that jazz. It was, however, a book that was made with wonderful intention, inspiring millions of girls everywhere by growing up with stories about amazing women that changed history in whatever way possible. And that intention shows even from the first page, which has this written:

To the rebel girls of the world:
Dream bigger
Aim higher
Fight harder
And, when in doubt, remember
You are right.

From there, the book is very user friendly. It has a clear index which shows the 100 stories written for this book, covering more than 100 women. The women are identified by their profession. Some women, like the Brontë sisters, have one story for them all. Each story fills one page and has a picture of the woman in the story on the adjoining page. The pictures, in several styles that are often colorful and attractive to children but nonetheless very well done, are made by more than 60 artists from all over the world.

bedtime stories
Some of the drawings featured in the book. From left to right: Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo and Maya Angelou.

All in all, I think the book is really good. The stories are written so children can understand them without being overtly childish and without shying away from the truth. With Michaela DePrince, it mentions how her vitiligo caused her to be called a ‘devil’s daughter’ and with Malala Yousafzai, they reveal that she was shot in the head, though obviously no details are mentioned. When writing about Nina Simone: “She knew how racism hurt black people, and she wanted them to find strength in her songs.”

I found the realism in the stories refreshing, even though some stories have been made less gritty. For example, one of the 100 stories covers Margaret Thatcher and it makes her story a lot more rose-colored than it actually was. I honestly questioned whether she needed a spot in the book. Of course, she was the first female British Prime Minister, but considering the controversy and all the harm she caused, it made me doubt her placement in the book.

The book offers a decent variety of professions and the way these women have influenced history. It goes from queens, empresses, and pharaohs to painters, drummers, and pirates. They don’t all have to be Nobel Prize winners. Though most of the names were familiar to me, they aren’t all famous like Cleopatra or Michelle Obama. I wonder how many people know Amna al Haddad’s name or why she deserves her own story. Because the book covers so many different professions, it can inspire a lot of girls and not just those that think politics are the only way to change anything.

Which brings me to another very important subject: intersectionality. I wouldn’t give the book five out of five stars here, but an effort was clearly made. While I read the book, I kept score and wrote down everything that jumped out at me. When I finished, the final tally showed that half of the stories were about women of color, which is pretty decent. Over half were about women from Europe or North-America. Most of the people buying this book are probably from those two continents, but that should be all the more reason to include more women from everywhere else in the world because those women are often even more ignored in history books than western women.

The representation of queer women is lacking. Aside from Coy Mathis, a young American trans girl, no one else is mentioned as queer. Virginia Woolf was, but it isn’t in her story. I would have enjoyed reading a little bit more about that. Two names, for example, that I immediately looked for was Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, two of the leading ladies in the Stonewall riots, but they were not in the book. Choices have to be made, but with queer women being sort of absent, I would have loved to have seen either of them in there.

Positive things that I noticed included the five disabled people, from a deaf motocross racer to a blind ballerina. Their disabilities were clearly mentioned and how they dealt with them and managed to be amazing with them or even because of them. Another detail I appreciated was that Cleopatra is actually drawn brown instead of milky white. And perhaps one of my favorite little details was how some stories talk about the support these women received to be able to achieve their goals, telling the children who read this book that you don’t have to do everything alone.

Despite a few shortcomings, I do recommend this book. I think young me would have loved to have this book in between all the fairy tales. It is inspiring for young girls, but also for not-so-young girls, and people of all genders. Be inspired to write your own story on the final page and draw your portrait. As the quote accompanying Isabel Allende’s story says “Write what should not be forgotten”.

bedtime stories

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is available for purchase on their own website: rebelgirls with volume 2 coming out this November.