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Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls is an original crowdfunded book, to inspire children with stories of 100 heroic women from Queen Elizabeth to Serena Williams.
What sets this book apart from the Royal Diaries series by Kathryn Lasky or The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses by Shrin Yim Bridges is that they have not stuck to just princesses. They have picked women from all streams of life.
This collection of 100 stories covers women who were pioneers in various things. We have pirates and also presidents. The range extends from an elementary school student, who as a transgender, fought for the right to use the bathroom for the gender she identifies with rather than the gender she was born with, to empresses who fought to assert their rights. We see ballerinas who broke barriers facing the same struggles as boxers. Surfer to suffragette and chef to computer scientist, this is a summary of women who stood strong and overcame odds.
As I was reading the book, a couple of things flashed through my mind, namely the use of the word ‘rebel’ in the book title and the inclusion of pirates, Grace O’Malley and Jacquotte Delahaye. Though the word rebel means some one who is fighting an establishment, it is mostly associated with something negative. Also questions might arise, if becoming a pirate is really a career choice? But it warmed my heart that creators used the word rebel as part of the book title and included pirates, because the society stereotype is to associate women and girls with extraordinary goodness and complicity. Basically these choices reiterate that women can be anything and need to stand up for themselves.
Though it is an extraordinary task to chronicle every single woman/girl who went against the grain for their beliefs, painstaking work has been done to feature women as early as 1508 BC (Pharaoh Hatshepsut) to women of our times, women from all parts of the world and from various career streams.
Every rebel girl featured has a two paged spread. On the left is their name and achievement in the title, a short summary of their life and the challenges they faced, their year of birth (and death if applicable) and country of origin in the foot note. The language used is straightforward, clear, and respects the intelligence of the reader. On the right is a spectacular illustration, by varied women artists from around the world, and a quote from the the main subject.
The contents lists the rebel girls by name, their field along with the page number where they are featured. All the illustrators who have contributed to the project are listed at the end of the book by name, country and the page number their work of art is featured.
As you read the stories of these inspirational women, you realize that often times the challenges women face have stayed the same inspite of changing times.
People like Margaret Hamilton without whom neither one small step for man nor one giant leap for mankind would have happened, have been pushed to the sidelines to glorify Neil Armstrong. 17th century artist Artemisia Gentileschi being harassed by her mentor, people trying to wipe out Hatshepsut’s legacy only because of her gender, the social policing Dr.Mary Edwards Walker faced, Nina Simone discriminated for her skin color, people wanting to put Judge Ruth Ginsburg in her place, women politicians judged minutely for their appearance, well deserving women passed on to promote a male candidate… But the silver lining is the success of these women who continue to inspire thousands.
As many of you might have done, I checked for all things related to India the minute I opened the book. We have our own rebel girls, Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi and Mary Kom featured. In keeping with the main idea that the stories are meant to serve as an introduction to these women and by no means a detailed account of their life, the stories of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Mary Kom provide the important details about their life, the challenges they faced and how they fought these challenges.
But I have to say that the illustration of Rani Lakshmi Bai could have used a lot more research and understanding of the ways of Indian royalty in mid 19th century. What is presented by the artist is a very Frida Kahlo looking woman with an off shoulder attire! A very life like Mary Mom is illustrated by illustrator extraordinaire Priya Kurian. Priya Kurian has also illustrated Balkissa Chaibou the young lady who challenged her family’s decision to get her married to become a doctor. This was also my first introduction to Samhida Gunjal, architect turned artist, who has illustrated (Brides For Sale fame) Sonita Alizadeh, the rapper from Afghanistan.
Image source: amazon
I do hope there will be a Book 2, where more of Indian rebel girls are featured, because we do have an endless supply of rebel girls! Razia Sultan, Rani Rudramma devi, Rani of Chitoor, Rani Velu Nachiyar, Princess Jahanara, Begum of Bhopal, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Savitribai Pule, Dr.Rakhmabai, Tarabai Shinde, Sarojini Naidu, Capt Lakshmi Sehgal, Rukmini Lakshmipathi, Akka Mahadevi, Meera Bai, Thillayadi Valliyammai, Rukmani Devi Arundale, Balasaraswathi, Chadralekha, Mrinalini Sarabai, … and I haven’t even scratched the surface!
To some one who enjoys art work this book is a real treat. You get to hold illustrations by 60 artists from different parts of the world. I went through page by page marvelling at Maria Callas’ cheek bones, Margaret Thatcher’s piercing blue eyes, a life like portrait of Nina Simone, Brenda Chapman’s bouncy red tresses, quirky illustration of Julia Child and so on. I opened the illustrators index and had fun comparing and finding commonalities between two different subjects by the same artist.
I agree that this is a much needed book, but still can’t fathom why the book is titled Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls. It must be Good Night Stories “OF” Rebel Girls. In my opinion, the word “FOR” automatically excludes half the population. We need strong women role models for all genders, not just for girls. We need men and boys to understand that women and girls have dreams and it is not odd that they stand for it.
In the preface the authors state that the rebel girls featured in this book often did not experience trust from the world. Including all genders as equal audience to this kind of positive dialogue will hopefully increase the support our girls will get in the future.
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Anitha Ramkumar is a teacher, librarian, a dreamer and an independent spirit. She used to
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