Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director, respectively, of Timbuku Labs in San Francisco, are redefining children’s media. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is their anthology of short, illustrated international women’s biographies—which became the quickest and most funded children’s book in crowdfunding history after a Kickstarter campaign and is now an international bestseller in multiple languages. (And now, they’re working on Volume II.) The book was their modest follow up to Timbuktu, their award winning digital children’s news magazine. At the core of their company is this belief: that children, especially young girls, can be active, informed world citizens and overcome the challenges reality presents with imagination.
Favilli and Cavallo answered some questions together for Ms.
How did the idea for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls come about?
The theme of empowering girls, especially young girls, is very important for both of us. It came partially from our personal experience, of two young female entrepreneurs trying to create a company in the U.S. and fighting against gender stereotypes. Even in the tech industry where it seems to be cool and progressive but there are still many gender stereotypes. Also, working in children’s media we witnessed from the inside how media for children is still packed with gender stereotypes.
We did a lot of research and found that children’s media in general t.v., cartoons, movies, but also children’s books they rarely have a female as a protagonists. There are two research studies, that we used in our Kickstarter campaign, that show 18 percent of children’s shows female character’s having a job or professional ambition versus 80 percent of male characters. These few statistics are shocking because until someone points it out to you it is very hard to realize how outrageous it is. We are so used to this status quo when it comes to female representation in the media and children’s spaces that we don’t even pay attention. We don’t realize that there are few shows and books that have strong female characters.
The first idea was the title of the book because we liked the idea of the contrast of Good Night and Rebel. Rebel is one of those words that always has some sort of negative connotation especially when it is associated to girls and women. And this happens across all cultures and languages there are always someone telling us, ‘Why did you say rebel girls why not just girls?’
Nobody really likes rebel women. They usually prefer women to be docile, nice, and smiling. It is important to cultivate, especially if you are a women or a girl, a rebel attitude, a rebel character because you have to fight harder to reach your dream and to get what you want. You will find obstacles and so that was the main reason why we chose to use these words in the title. It was also some dedication. This is for you and we are not ashamed to say that this book is for rebel girls who in many cases are not represented in the media.
How did you choose the women to highlight?
We used three main criteria. We wanted to include women from the past and the present. We didn’t want to create an encyclopedia of women in history. We wanted to include women of our time. Our products in Timbuktu have a very strong connection with our present time to every day news and every day reality. The other criterion that we used is that we wanted to include women from all over the world. We really wanted this book to be as diverse and inclusive as possible in terms of geography and cultural background. We have women not just from the U.S. or Europe but from India, China, Saudi Arabia, from Ghana. It is a very international book.
The third criterion was to choose women whose biography could be interesting from a child’s perspective. For example, one of the first stories that we worked on was the story of Fridah Kahlo which of course is a very well known character in history, the fact that she had to overcome so many obstacles as a child made her story very appealing from a child’s perspective. For Coco Channel we chose to focus on her surviving life in an orphanage and learning how to sew and how these decisions had a great impact on her life. We always try to find small details that can start the imagination and tell these stories that are not just a boring recollection of facts. We wanted this book to feel really personal and that is one of the reasons children and adults are connecting so well with it […] they connect with the women and see their achievements as attainable.
Did you consider this books to be a feminist book? What does feminism mean for you?
Absolutely. This book is what feminism means for us. It cultivates this trend for fighting for what you believe in and for who you are, don’t be afraid the limits that reality puts in front of you every day. The dedication that we have in one of the first pages of the book is the essence of the message that we want to convey, it says, “To all the rebel girls of the world, dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder.”
In your book you do such a beautiful job of showing how women from around the world have actively been involved not only in attaining rights for women but also for their people across centuries. Was that something purposeful you wanted to show?
Yes! The idea that feminism is very inclusive and belongs to everyone not just to a select group of intellectuals is crucial to us. We often say we should all be feminist but that in practice it is still not the case. We wanted to show with this book that women from every walk of life, in every field, in every country have fought for the advancement of women’s rights and women’s freedom in many different ways. There is not one way to be a feminist there isn’t just one way to be a rebel, there are many different ways and you just have to find yours.