Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls review – a real inspiration

From activists and lawyers to pirates and inventors, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo present young readers with a lifetime’s supply of brilliant female role models

Children’s nonfiction books about women’s lives are a long overdue trend, and this empowering, resolutely “anti-princess” storybook is a very welcome addition. Initially funded by a $1m Kickstarter campaign, the authors wrote it in response to the gender stereotyping they found across children’s books and media.

One hundred extraordinary women are profiled in mini biographies alongside striking full-page portraits by female artists. Countries from across the globe are represented, with around a third of the women from the US. Elizabeth I, Ada Lovelace and Jane Austen lead the British entries, which do feel a little predictable – my daughter fruitlessly scanned through for JK Rowling; the most recent entry is Margaret Thatcher – but this is a minor gripe.

From ancient philosophers to modern sports stars there is real richness to the nationalities, ethnicities and professions of these inspirational role models. Much of the charm is in the juxtapositions: queens sit alongside activists, ballerinas with lawyers, pirates and computer scientists, weight lifters and inventors, creating a thrilling sense of possibility. The biographies share a lyrical, fairytale lilt. “There was a time when only boys could be whatever they wanted,” in Hillary Clinton’s case. The stories are not sugar-coated, and the emphasis is on overcoming obstacles and persevering, the book’s dedication page urging readers to “dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder”.

Beautiful production makes this a book to keep, treasure and read again, and the end pages are a call to arms: space for readers to write their own story and draw their own portrait. Essential reading for girls and indeed boys; children who read this at bedtime are guaranteed some big and inspirational dreams.

• Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo is published by Penguin (£17.99). To order a copy for £15.29 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Fiona Noble

The GuardianTramp

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