When Elena and Francesca launched Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, they began a powerful movement around bringing the many ways femininity can look to life in children’s literature. We’ve got the scoop on how they came to share the adventures and illustrations of resilient, adventurous women from all over the world. 

Interview with Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Thanks for taking the time to chat with The Mulberry Journal, Elena & Francesca. Can you each introduce yourselves and give us a brief idea of your upbringing in Italy, and how you came to be authors and entrepreneurs?

Thank you, Grace. We are the authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. We moved to California at the end of 2011 to start a company and now live in Los Angeles. Elena had been working as a journalist and Francesca as a stage director and playwright. We met in Milan and built the first iPad magazine for children in the world, Timbuktu Magazine, in our kitchen.

Where did the idea for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls originate? And how did you come to work on the book together?

We have been working in the children’s media space for the past five years, and so have witnessed from the inside how gender stereotypes still permeate books for children of all ages. Parents are offered few resources to counter this trend and they are especially concerned about the lack of strong female role models in children’s media. That’s why we decided to create this book.

It’s important for girls to see female role models. It helps them become more confident and set bigger goals for themselves. We're both in our early 30s, we're female entrepreneurs, and we know firsthand how hard it is to succeed, to be considered, to be given a chance. Research shows that by the time girls reach elementary school, they already have less confidence in themselves than boys. That is why changing the narrative early on is so important.

How did you research and choose the women to include in the book? How long did the process take from idea to the print book?

We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, and religious background.

We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible; we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child. The famous chef, Julia Child, for example, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.

We always try to find new and less known angles when we work on a story. With such monumental biographies, you need to find the right perspective to bring children into the story and to kindle their imagination. For Coco Chanel, for example, whose story has been told in many different ways across time, we chose to emphasize the detail of how she learned to sew, in a convent, using scraps of nun's clothes that (of course!) were black. Her story becomes immediately more interesting if you know that her iconic black style is rooted in that experience.

It took one year in total, including researching and designing our crowd-funding campaign, which we launched in April 2016 so we could self-publish the book. Before the launch, we had tested out the interest for Rebel Girls by sending samples of some of the stories and art in Timbuktu’s newsletter.

You financed the book publication on Kickstarter and it became the highest funded crowd-funding project in history. How many patrons did you get and what was the response like when it finally launched?

We worked for eight months on the campaign. We rewrote the script 16 times, and we built a community interested in girls empowerment in the months leading up to the campaign. The book raised more than a million dollars with the help of 20,000 backers in 71 countries! Our original fundraising goal was $40,000, which was met in 30 hours. During the 29 day campaign, we raised $675,614. We then continued on Indiegogo's platform InDemand, where it passed the $1,000,000 mark. We were excited to see that our idea resonated with so many people. It is the most funded original book ever in the history of crowdfunding!

The stunning artwork throughout the book is by female artists from around the world... Brazil, Italy, Portugal, India, Tokyo. How did you discover these artists and how many contributed?

The book features original artwork from 60 female artists commissioned to illustrate stories that reinvent fairy tales to inspire girls and boys. The decision to seek out female artists was intentional. We think it’s our duty to give voice to the amazing work that female artists are creating every day, in every corner of the globe. We also wanted to have a huge variety of styles so that each woman could emerge in her own unique personality. Media tend to represent women in a very narrow way, so for us it was important to showcase that femininity comes in many different forms… there is not only one way to be a woman, and a rebel girl.

Some of the illustrations are available as prints and posters too!

What is it that you hope young girls reading this book will glean about womanhood and their uniqueness and strength as women?

Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offer them a very narrow representation of who they can be, and the illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look.

This is reflected in girls experiencing a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, and this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.

Is this book for boys too? What can boys learn from reading Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls?

This is not a book about women’s issues in society. It’s a book full of uplifting, beautiful stories inspired by the life and adventures of many extraordinary women from around the world. It doesn’t shy away from addressing the challenges that many women and girls faced to fulfill their dreams, but it does so in a way that is always constructive. We believe people of all genders can benefit from this message.

You've since published a second edition: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2. Is that available in stores yet? Where can people find out more about your other initiatives and buy Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books?

Both books, and a beautiful gift set, are available directly from our website. They are also available at many independent bookstores all over the world. This year, we also launched our podcast, which can be found on iTunes.

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