Reading was my favourite activity as a child. I was a shy and introvert girl and books were a wonderful world into where I loved to escape. They are one of my fondest memories of my early years.
I hope my daughter will share my love of books and reading, and even if she is not yet 2 year old, we already have our bedtime story routine well established. It is a special moment of the day for both of us and I love seeing the excitement on her face when I read her a story she is particularly fond of. And our local library is already one of our favourite destinations!
Being on a constant hunt for the next book to add to her growing collection, I could not miss the eye opening video posted by Timbuktu Labs, which surprised and shocked me. You may have come across it over the past months as it got over 24m views on Facebook.
Timbuktu Labs is a children media company, created by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favili, two Italian ladies who live in the US. Francesca and Elena realised that in their childhood books, girls or women never seem to have a very strong role and this lack of inspiring models could be affecting young girls confidence in the long run, as they grow up. As they said, you cannot be what you cannot see. These two ladies went to publish the book mentioned in the video, Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls , which is the most highly funded original book in the history of crowdfunding. It compiles the stories of 100 inspiring women, some of them still alive. A second volume is in the pipeline and will hit the shelves in November this year.
The lack of female heroes in children books had never really hit me until now. In my childhood readings, there were a mix of girls and boys as main characters – just thinking about the Famous Five! But I never really thought about how girls were portrayed, what I did not see and how it may have influenced me. I read a lot of classics in which women were naturally restrained by what their condition was in the times when they lived and it never occurred to me that my readings did not have many role models I could be inspired from. My daughter’s books still have a lot of animals as main characters so I had not observed that pattern yet, but reading more about it, I realised that although there is not a total lack of inspiring female characters in children literature, these books are a bit more difficult to find.
Without getting into an outraged feminist rant, I do believe what we tell and show our children will impact their perception of the world and of themselves. Reading them stories about girls or women being brave, smart, heroic and inspiring, who changed the world and touched people’s lives can help build a world for them where men and women are more equal, where there is no closed doors based on gender and where people treat each other with more love and respect. And these books are not just good for girls! Young boys can also learn and be inspired by female role models and I truly believe that can help us raise generations of children for whom gender equality is not an aspiration but a reality they would not even think to question.
This is not the only book focusing on sharing the biographies of iconic, inspiring women. I really like the collection Little People, Big Dreams (with each book focusing on one person, such as Agatha Christie, Marie Curie or Frida Kahlo). There are all about how each of these ladies went to achieve amazing things throughout their lives, all starting being little girls with dreams. The stories are easy to read and I love the beautiful illustrations, which really bring to life the universe of each woman.
(The link takes you to a UK shop I like a lot, the FMLY store, but these books are of course available in lots of different places. Even better if you get one of these from your local bookshop! I have borrowed a couple from our amazing local library and plan to buy some others for my daughter’s birthday).
You may have heard about the book Chelsea Clinton recently wrote. Inspired by a hero of mine, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, She Persisted introduces children to the lives of 13 American women who, through their perseverance, “changed the world”. It is a heart warming read which reminds young girls that they can achieve anything they want and to not let their dreams get crushed. Once more, the beautiful illustrations play an important role in bringing each of these women’s stories to life. This is a book that sits proudly on our shelves.
The best part is that all these books are really enjoyable to read even as a grown up! I have learned a lot about women I already knew, but more importantly about women I had never heard about and whose stories are really worth to be told. A great gift for the children in your life and for anyone looking for some inspiration.
If you are interested in the topic:
An excellent article published in the Guardian, with more details on what is happening within the children literature industry, as well as some good ideas of books with inspiring female characters.
Rebelgirls.co : the website of Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls – sign up to their newsletter and you’ll receive a free ebook “How to raise confident girls”. It is a short, easy read, with practical advice and examples, that may feel very simple but I found them to be useful reminders.