The Rebel Girls Who Wrote Real-Life Role Models into Fairy Tales, a Podcast, and an Interactive Journal
Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli saw that books and media for children fell short on female representation. So they built a media empire that celebrates the stories of inspiring women in kid-friendly formats.
I Am a Rebel Girl, live on Kickstarter now, is an empowering journal that prompts girls of all ages to write about the causes they’ll fight for, the villains they’ll conquer, and the rights they’ll claim. It’s “a feminist activity book that will help young girls and young women train their rebel spirits and start the revolution of our time,” coauthor Francesca Cavallo explains.
Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli created the journal as a follow-up to their breakout hit Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a book of fairy tales that profiles 100 contemporary and historical women from around the world. The book’s 2016 Kickstarter campaign made it the most successful new title in the history of crowdfunding. Since then, it has been translated into almost 50 languages, selling more than three million copies. In 2017, Cavallo and Favilli published a follow-up book with another 100 uplifting stories. And their podcast, which has been downloaded more than a million times, is gearing up for a second season as part of the latest Kickstarter campaign.
Favilli and Cavallo have always enjoyed collaborating. But their innovative ideas weren’t always financially viable. Favilli, a journalist, and Cavallo, who worked in theater, teamed up to create Timbuktu, the first kid-focused iPad magazine on the App Store, in 2012. “At the time, we were experimenting with interactive storytelling and current events,” says Favilli. “It was a way to expose children to some of the most amazing stories from around the world, on many different themes, on an exciting new medium: the iPhone.”
They went on to make 12 reading apps and six printed books for children, but the business was struggling. “We were in dire need of a source of revenue — we were really running out of options,” says Cavallo. Their savings were so depleted that they started to worry about making rent on their tiny Los Angeles apartment.
And they were second-guessing their vision. After seeing Geena Davis speak about female representation in children’s books — at a conference where Timbuktu was presenting two books that featured male protagonists — Favilli and Cavallo decided to change their focus.
“We were experiencing this moment of personal and professional crisis, and we were looking for something that could be meaningful,” says Favilli. “We asked ourselves this very important question: ‘Why are we still doing this? Why are we still trying to tell stories?’”
“We’ve always been passionate about women’s rights,” says Favilli. “So we decided that our next project should be something that could empower young women. We decided to do something that could address the gender gap in children’s media.”
They started a newsletter called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. “We felt like we were actually inspiring the people in our lives,” says Cavallo. “They were forwarding the newsletter to other people. Eventually it had more than 2,000 subscribers, and we thought we could probably turn it into a book proposal. It’s no [secret] that it’s much harder for women to raise money than it is for men. We thought that instead of going the traditional route with a publisher, maybe we could take it to Kickstarter.”
Their lengthy experience with media and children’s publishing gave the project a specific, powerful point of view. “When I was working as a journalist, I could see that so many amazing stories didn’t reach children,” says Favili. “There was never any kind of coverage tailored to children. News is so important for any society and any democratic process; we thought that exposing children to those kinds of stories could make a difference in how we raise future generations.” They wanted to feature women of all ages, from all over the globe, in all disciplines and industries, from the present as well as the past. And they thought about how to share their accomplishments in a format akin to fairy tales.
“We didn’t want to create an encyclopedia,” Cavallo says. “That’s why we describe the stories as fairy tales, even though everything in the book is real. We wanted to tell these stories in a way that could appeal to children and become a daily habit. We’ve always believed that this should be part of the daily conversation with your children — with your daughters, in particular, but also with your sons.”
With the release of the I Am a Rebel Girl journal, that habitual conversation can be more interactive. Reading and talking about stories is one thing, but encouraging kids to fill out answers about positive body images, business ideas, and political engagement turns the empowerment into embodied knowledge.
“We are privileged to have an opportunity to inspire younger generations to take their destinies into their own hands,” says Cavallo. “And we love the fact that we have the opportunity to provide families with stories that were not available when we grew up.”