How two ‘rebel girls’ shook up pub­lish­ing

Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle -

Frus­trated with chil­dren’s sto­ries of pas­sive princesses and damsels in dis­tress, two Ital­ian women crowd­funded their way into pub­lish­ing his­tory with a record-break­ing book of in­spi­ra­tional tales for girls. And their rev­o­lu­tion has only just be­gun. The first vol­ume of “Good Night Sto­ries for Rebel Girls” by Elena Fav­illi and Francesca Cavallo has be­come a global sen­sa­tion, sell­ing more than three mil­lion copies with trans­la­tions in 46 lan­guages.

The 2016 book, telling the life sto­ries of 100 ex­tra­or­di­nary women rang­ing from US au­thor Maya An­gelou to Mex­i­can painter Frida Kahlo and Pol­ish-born sci­en­tist Marie Curie, was born out of ne­ces­sity, Cavallo said. “Most books don’t fea­ture girls in roles where they take charge of their des­tiny. In most chil­dren’s books, when there are fe­male char­ac­ters, they don’t speak,” Cavallo told AFP at the Frank­furt book fair.

“We want girls to grow up with the cer­tainty that they can choose the life they want. And never apol­o­gize for be­ing too as­sertive, too am­bi­tious or too brave.” Co-au­thors Cavallo and Fav­illi, who live in the United States, were de­ter­mined to change the gen­der im­bal­ance on the book­shelf-de­spite hav­ing no pub­lish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “That’s our rebel spirit,” the 35-year-old laughed.

Over $1.5 mil­lion

The duo had al­ready founded a chil­dren’s me­dia com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia called Tim­buktu Labs, which cre­ated the first iPad magazine for chil­dren. But to bring out a real-world book, they turned to crowd­fund­ing, set­ting their goal at a mod­est $40,000. They raised over $600,000, mak­ing it the high­est funded book ever on Kick­starter. Their sec­ond vol­ume of bed­time sto­ries last year smashed that record, rais­ing over $900,000. The huge ap­petite for the books blind­sided the tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing in­dus­try, spawn­ing a raft of copy­cat ver­sions as pub­lish­ers scram­ble to catch up with de­mand for em­pow­er­ing sto­ries about women.

Women’s mo­ment

At the open­ing of this week’s Frank­furt book fair, the world’s largest pub­lish­ing event, di­rec­tor Juer­gen Boos cited the Rebel Girls chron­i­cles as an ex­am­ple of how pub­lish­ing was chang­ing. “We are see­ing new ways that lit­er­a­ture is be­ing cre­ated, bought and re­ceived,” Boos said, point­ing out that it took an on­line com­mu­nity “to re­veal there weren’t nearly enough books with fe­male hero­ines”. The sec­ond Rebel Girls book, which has sold over 600,000 copies so far, again of­fers one-page bios of 100 strong women, writ­ten in a fairy­talestyle and paired with a col­or­ful, il­lus­trated por­trait.

Bey­once and Oprah are among those fea­tured. Cavallo said it was “no co­in­ci­dence” the books were so suc­cess­ful at a time when women’s voices are grow­ing louder and the #MeToo move­ment has taken the world by storm, spark­ing a global de­bate about sex­ual ha­rass­ment. “We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a mo­ment in his­tory when women are de­ter­mined

That’s our rebel spirit

to see women’s rights at the front and cen­tre of the po­lit­i­cal agenda,” Cavallo said. “It’s prob­a­bly the best time in his­tory to be a rebel girl. But there is still so much to do.”

The third Rebel Girls book is al­ready on the way, an in­ter­ac­tive “jour­nal to start­ing a rev­o­lu­tion”. It reached its crowd­fund­ing tar­get in just eight hours and will hit book­stores in early De­cem­ber-al­though back­ers on Kick­starter will get their copies ear­lier. The au­thors have also branched out into pod­casts, us­ing fa­mous voices to read out ex­tended ver­sions of some of the bi­ogra­phies. Bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist Melinda Gates is one of the nar­ra­tors, as is New York Times jour­nal­ist Jodi Kan­tor who co-wrote the ex­pose that first re­vealed the sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against Hol­ly­wood mogul Har­vey We­in­stein.

But what Cavallo and Fav­illi in­sist they won’t do is ex­pand their brand into rebel books for boys. “We feel it’s very im­por­tant for boys to read books where they are not in the ti­tle. Girls have done that their whole lives,” Cavallo said. “And a lot of boys tell us they love our sto­ries. Many par­ents still feel they can’t give boys a book about girls. But that’s chang­ing too.”

— AFP pho­tos

Francesca Cavallo, co-au­thor of ‘Good night sto­ries for rebel girls’ poses at the Book Fair in Frank­furt am Main, western Ger­many.

Books from the se­ries ‘Good night sto­ries for rebel girls’ by co-au­thors Francesca Cavallo and Elena Fav­illi are on dis­play at the Book Fair.

Peo­ple read books from the se­ries ‘Good night sto­ries for rebel girls.’

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