100 women who changed the world

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Particular Books

224 pages

R329 at takealot.com (hardcover)


Rebel Girls is awesome – it is not just a book, it is a movement.

Take a long, hard look at a little girl when she first opens a copy of this extraordinary book, you will need no further proof that the majority of our mainstream stories are not inclusive and gender balanced.

It was published late last year, but only arrived in South Africa in 2017. My eight-year-old keeps only this book beside her bed, pages through it, rereads it and quotes from it. Her friends all do the same. These young girls take to it like a duck to water.

I fear that, despite the best efforts of those who are aware of the casual sexism all around them, our girl children are still being bombarded by “girls don’t”, “girls wear”, “girls shouldn’t” instructions in every sphere of their lives.

They won’t be getting that from Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. As the inscription says: “To the rebel girls of the world: Dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder and, when in doubt, remember you are right.”

The 100 women included here are from around the world, every continent and every era. Some are obvious: Elizabeth I, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai and Marie Curie.

Some I had never heard of – the Cholita Climbers (mountaineers), Ashley Fiolek (motorcross racer), Grace O’Malley (pirate), the Mirabal sisters (activists) and Yaa Asantewaa (warrior queen).

Some will initiate fierce debates: Aung San Suu Kyi, Margaret Thatcher, Coy Mathis and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And that is what is best about this book, each story is the start of a much broader learning opportunity for the young reader. Each story is a potential school project, each is potentially a counterpoint to the usual hero narrative.

All of them, as my daughter says, “are stories of strong women who have worked to make the world a better place or have done things first. They have explored places and invented things.”

The book was crowdfunded (the authors raised R13.6m, breaking records) and each of the 100 illustrations were done by female artists from across the globe. Three of the illustrations were made by two South African artists. Karabo Moletsane drew the portrait of astronaut and doctor Mae C Jemison, while Thandiwe Tshabalala illustrated the great writer Maya Angelou and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Our own Miriam Makeba is included as one of the 100.

Each woman gets a double page: one telling the basics of her story and the other an artist’s interpretation of her and her deeds. Each picture carries a quote that encapsulates that woman’s life, work and beliefs.

Some of the quotes are hilarious, such as the one from chef Julia Child: “A party without a cake is just a meeting.” Some are empowering such as from artist Frida Khalo: “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini’s quote is a call to action: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.” Perhaps the woman who puts the message of this book across best is 21-year-old Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh: “I am tired of the silence.”

Rebel Girls is a book of our time and one that should be in every library in every school. Let’s buy it for our girls, and remember to read it to our boys too.

Volume 2 of Rebel Girls was released overseas this month and will be available in South African bookstores on February 28

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