One of the biggest book sensations of last year was the story behind 'Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls'. Pitched to be a reinven...

Little Feminist Book Club: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Sunday, February 25, 2018 BookBairn 6 Comments

One of the biggest book sensations of last year was the story behind 'Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls'. Pitched to be a reinvention of fairy tales about real-life inspiring women for little girls who wanted more from their stories than a simple damsel in distress princess, Goodnight Stories became the most highly-funded book in the history of crowd funding and is now available in good bookshops everywhere. And I believe on bedside tables and bookshelves of little girls everywhere.

Simply watching the advertising for their campaign you can see why - there is a real issue on our bookshelves. It shows a mother and daughter removing books from a bookcase depending on a range of criteria - does it have a female character, does that character speak, does she has aspirations? And sadly, the bookcase wasn't a randmonly chosen one - it was set up to reflect real statistics from studies into gender disparity in children's books. You can read more about it and watch the video in this guardian article. What they certainly proved was that there is a real need for a book like this one.

But it has not been without criticism. First of all, many people object to the use of 'for' in the title. Surely Goodnight Stories about mighty girls and women would appeal to boys too? And by using 'for' the team behind the book have alienated a whole audience from their book - something that we know the traditional publishing industry has done to girls for years (though is getting much better at readdressing the balance now). And I agree. As a title it doesn't work for me. I will be reading the stories to my son when he is old enough but I would imagine he wouldn't necessarily have chosen them himself given the title. But if you can get beyond that, and you should, inside the pages are really inspirational and empowering stories for girls and boys alike!

The book consists of 100 stories of women from all around the globe and from all eras who have broken down barriers, smashed through walls, 'stuck it' to the established system and made a change. From spies to pirates, queens to astronauts, pharaohs to scientists, writers to sports stars, activists to political figures there are all different sorts of women within this tome! And almost every page has been illustrated by a different female illustrator (60 different artists to bring these characters of history to life!). And let me just take a moment to say that the collection of illustrations are incredible. And would be worth framing to create a display of mighty women!

As I read through I enjoyed many of the stories - Marie Curie, the Mirabel sisters, Maria Montessori, Malala Yousafzai, Irena Sendlerowa, Harriet Tubman, Cleopatra, the Bronte sisters, Ann Makosinski, Ada Lovelace amongst others. I have read some of these stories to BookBairn - she is still quite young to sit through much of a story like this (and to be fair the book is aimed at older children). And I have enjoyed sharing the inspirational women I have mentioned above with her. I want her to know these wonderful women who made a difference and to know that she can follow in their footsteps or blaze a path of her own making! And I think that is probably the whole point of this book!

But there are some women whose inclusion I would question. Some of these women I do not admire. But I don't think that makes this a bad book, and it's here I find the criticism a bit unfair. This is an anthology. And you are not going to like every single page - for example I'm no Margaret Thatcher fan, I am disgusted by recent events in Myanmar that have lead to my losing respect for Aung San Suu Kyi (a women I once admired), and I'm not sure that the story of Zaha Hadid's bullying and diva behaviour is something I really want my daughter to hold in esteem.

But this book is not about the best behaved women in history. It is not even about the women who have done the most good. It is about women who have rewritten the rules. And I cannot deny that these women have done that. But that doesn't mean that I like them. In this book, as in life, you aren't going to like everyone.  Neither Michelle Obama nor Hilary Clinton are women who would make my top 100 women to admire - sure they have done some good things but really for a long time they were their husband's wives and there are, in my opinion, women way more deserving of a place in this book (Mother Theresa, for example). Perhaps that's why there is to be a sequel.

This really is a fascinating book, full of fascinating women. And whilst I have levelled some criticism at it, I would still recommend buying a copy for your daughter or son. But I would say it is one best explored together. So you can share additional facts, chose which women you focus on, making sure you choose ones that fit with your values. BookBairn and I will read it together. And if you read this book well, your little one's bedtime can be full of rebel girl goodnight stories and they may well go to sleep dreaming of being true to who they are, blazing their own path and changing history.

And personally, I want BookBairn to go to bed dreaming of all the tings she can be, of all the things she can achieve, inspired by women who believed they could be more and do more than was expected of them. Have you read Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls? Will you be buying book two? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below or on social media!

Next month for Little Feminist Book Club, we are going to be reading 'Edie' by Sophy Henn - a book starring a mighty helpful little girl! We'd love it if you read along too!

Happy Reading,
Mummy and the little feminist book club xx


  1. This is a very important issue and it’s a problem which goes back to the male dominated workplace which nurtured the male voice in history, so much of the pre 20th century history features very few women outside queens, missionaries or campaigning women. It’s also equally important the our strong girls have good role models close to home so they have equality.

    1. Absolutely! History is written by the men with the pen!

  2. BookBairn has always inspired me and I look forward to witnessing some of the things she achieves. Go girl!!

  3. This is a fantastic review and echos a lot of my own thoughts. I really like the book and so does my daughter, but I do have a problem with the title. I didn’t really think about excluding boys intentionally, but I worry that it sends the message that stories about amazing women are of no interest to boys. I would also cut out a few women that don’t really seem like ideal role models, and I was disappointed that Gloria Steinem wasn’t included (although I do see that she is in the latest book). Thanks for a great post!

    1. Absoluely Tammy - I completely agree! I've not read any Gloria Steinem myself - I must search the library catalogue to see if I can find a good place to start!