In the spring of 2016, Francesca Cavallo, a former playwright, and Elena Favilli, a former journalist, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their dream project: a feminist children’s book. Within 48 hours the longtime partners had surpassed their $40,000 goal; in a matter of weeks, theirs became the most successful literary crowdfunding effort in history, bucking conventional publishing trends and raising more than $1.2 million. The result was Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a collection of once-upon-a-time-style tales whose heroines are real scientists or musicians, judges or athletes (Sonia Sotomayor, Serena Williams). This month, the pair is back with I Am a Rebel Girl (December 5), an illustrated companion journal that readers “can use to turn their dreams into an actionable plan,” Favilli says.
The couple moved to Silicon Valley from their native Italy in 2012 with plans to launch Timbuktu Labs, a digital publishing start-up. (Prior to moving stateside, they’d launched Timbuktu magazine, the first iPad magazine for children.) But the tech industry’s gender politics sent them searching for a home base that was more in tune with their creative pursuits.
In 2014 they relocated to Los Angeles; at the kitchen table in their one-bedroom Venice apartment, they hatched the idea for a different kind of bedtime story—one that would provide strong female role models in lieu of your garden-variety damsel in distress. “Rebel Girls would not exist without L.A.,” Cavallo says. “There is space [here] to experiment. We found the kind of support that we needed to pull off something like this.” And pull it off they did—not once, but twice: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2 was released in 2017, and together the volumes have sold more than 3 million copies to date. The books, Cavallo explains, give readers “the opportunity to end every day meditating on the greatness of women, which is something that resonated with a lot of people in this historical moment.”
I Am a Rebel Girl builds on that moment. The journal is filled with writing prompts encouraging girls of all ages to jot down their hopes for the future or love notes to favorite body parts. In a genre where male characters are twice as likely to have leading roles as female ones, the Rebel Girls series is fulfilling a need in ways other picture books can’t compete with. “It’s never been more important to raise girls who are ready to change the status quo,” Favilli says. “This is what this journal is for.”