Good night, gender stereotypes!
Equal rights in the nursery: Two Italian authors have written bedtime stories without weak girls or strong boys: “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”.
In the 19th century, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected stories of knights, princes and peasant sons who fought fearlessly against powers. As canonical as these fairy tales are today: They reflect antiquated gender relations: Men are the doers, while women wait. To be liberated from the tower, to be rescued – or immediately to the long-awaited wedding. And often for everything together.
It is disturbing that not only traditional fairy tales, but also much more modern children’s and adult books reproduce such constricting gender images. This is where Elena Favilli, journalist and media consultant, and Francesca Cavallo, writer and theatre director, come into play. In 2010, they founded a children’s media company to free fairy tales and children’s books from their patriarchal garb.
They launched a crowdfunding campaign – and promoted their idea of a feminist bedtime book with a rousing video: Mother and daughter stand in front of the bookshelf, sorting out books: Books in which there are no women; books in which women are limited to silent beings; in the end all princess stories. The formerly full bookshelf is almost empty. The girl then asks the librarian: “Excuse me Sir, I want to go to Mars – do you have a book for that? The video was viral, Favilli and Cavallo collected over a million dollars within a very short time. This made “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” the most successful children’s book in the history of crowdfunding.
In “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”, which is now also available in German, the balance of power turns in favour of women. The protagonists of the stories liberate themselves from their historical helplessness, put aside what blocks their path.
On 240 pages, historical pioneers – from Frida Kahlo to Simone Biles – are portrayed, supplemented with illustrations. The result is stories with bite. Although this no longer has much to do with the fairy tale genre, it is precisely because no fantasy figures are portrayed here that the stories seem all the more impressive: for example, that of Manal al-Sharif, who got behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia in 2011 and posted a video of the daring action. A law that allows both sexes to drive will come into force in 2018. Not all the women portrayed were able to reap the fruits of their rebellion. Thus the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on Chechnya, was almost poisoned and died a violent death in 2006.
But not all of the rebels portrayed are undisputed role models. Margaret Thatcher, for example, is cited as a woman with a strong will and a head of her own. The description of the Iron Lady sounds almost grotesquely trivial: “She has always done what she thought was right. Some people liked her because of her direct nature, others found her rude.” As Prime Minister, she did not commit herself to the equality of women. Rather, her rigorous austerity policy has cut funding for training programmes and social services.
It is probably the authors’ intention not only to create a kind of alternative to the passive woman, but also to make visible the really existing, broad palette of female drive for action. In this respect, one can also reconcile oneself with the portrait of Thatcher.
The only unsolvable problem concerns the target group of the book, because the texts are written very comprehensibly, but enriched with references to the Holocaust, apartheid and racism. This makes the stories difficult for children under the age of 10 to understand without contextualisation. For children over the age of 12, they are not demanding enough.
In the traditional fairy tale, the educational mission is superficially: “The good ones will win in the end”. In fact, this usually means: “The men will judge it”. In “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” the message could be summarized as follows: One cannot know how a life develops; but those who stand up for their dreams and ideas, live with integrity and rebel, contribute to their own happiness and mostly also to the well-being of others.
Classics and modern literature, with CD and cuddly toy, electronic and traditional: As different as they are, we recommend these ten children’s books for every children’s room.
She already knows them by heart. So do I. And yet she still hasn’t heard the stories often enough. – No rarity when it comes to reading a story to our daughter. Many will be familiar with this condition: suggestions to read something else do not allow any competition with the favourite stories. And yet the curiosity for the unknown is great and regularly expands the repertoire, which is why I would like to give all those looking for new literature a little insight into our bookcase.
It’s hard enough to put together a list of the “Top Ten”, but I don’t want to succeed in ranking them here. I will therefore start with a few of the books that shaped my own childhood, but are still relevant today.
The little caterpillar Nimmersatt
Eric Carle’s “The little caterpillar Nimmersatt” is hard to get past. The transformation of the small, voracious caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly is the ideal introduction to the world of stories for very small listeners.
The little I am me
I am particularly pleased that our girl shares my love for stories by Mira Lobe with me, above all “The little I am me”. The rhyming search for identity of a strange animal that doesn’t really know where it belongs, I couldn’t hear it often enough in my childhood! But also “Bimbulli”, “The little town around it” or “The apple tree” are imaginatively and lovingly designed children’s stories.
Also from my own childhood I took Michael Ende’s adventure of “Jim Knopf” with me, who travels the island Lummerland and exotic places with Lukas, the locomotive driver, and his locomotive Emma. These stories are available in different formats, both as Pixi book and as bound edition and even cardboard picture book.
Peter and the Wolf
Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” is a musical fairy tale, which practically familiarized our child with the study of instruments at the same time. However, the story of the courageous Peter who catches the dangerous wolf and brings it to the zoo can be recommended as an audio book in combination with a picture book, since music is an essential part of the story.
The little dragon coconut
At the top of our favourites list is “The little dragon coconut” by Ingo Siegner. Coconut lives with its friends, the porcupine Matilda and the feeding dragon Oskar on the dragon island, with which it experiences each quantity of exciting adventures, which lead it to forbidden temples, to Atlantis or up to the north pole. This was our entry into the world of books with subdivided chapters. It is therefore only recommended when children are able to grasp longer stories and the concentration allows them to follow them through an extensive plot.