About a year ago, I bought “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” for Mazzy. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a thick hardcover book with the stories of 100 different women in history who have made a difference by defying the rules. Most of the rules being ones that were set up by and for men before these women defied them.
I’ve been wanting to write about this book since it came out back at the end of 2016, but I didn’t want to do a regular review based on my own opinion. I wanted to write about my entire experience reading it with Mazzy and Harlow, which took awhile, because we’ve read only 1-3 stories a night (and not every night) for almost a full year. There are some pretty big concepts for kids in the book and each story leads to lots of discussion, so we take our time with it. I also never want to force the book on them. We read when they are interested and attentive. While Mazzy has always been interested, I’ve noticed that Harlow’s interest has increased exponentially since she started kindergarten.
Each woman’s story has its own two page spread— the written story on one side and an illustration from a different artist on the other with a quote. Each story begins the same way.
“Once upon a time, a girl called Amelia saved enough money to buy a yellow airplane.” (That would be Amelia Earhart.)
“Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of becoming a great lawyer.” (That would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)
“Once upon a time, a little girl living in London created a newspaper about her family. Her name was Virginia.” (That would be Virginia Woolf.)
It’s amazing to see women like a warrior named Lozen from the 1800s just a few pages away from Malala Yousafzai, born in Pakistan in 1997 and the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
When we first got the book, I explained to Mazzy what it was about and her first question was if Ruby Bridges was in it. Ruby Bridges being the first African American girl to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana in 1960. I think Mazzy had recently learned about her in school. We looked and Ruby was not included. Then Mazzy asked, “How about Melba Liston?” I had never heard of Melba Liston but I turned to table of contents to check and there she was! Mazzy was so excited. Then she got to teach me that Melba Liston was the first female jazz trombonist to play in the male-dominated big bands of the 1940s. She had just learned about her in school too.
We started reading about three different women a night, in addition to their regular bedtime book. The girls loved it. They got to know the formula pretty quickly and will always ask first if the person is still alive. They are fascinated with whether the living people are younger (Simone Biles, Eufrosina Cruz) or older (Joan Jett, Xian Zhang) than I am.
They are also fascinated with the young women in the book and what they did to get there— like Jessica Watson (born in 1993) who sailed around the world at 16 years old, Ashley Foilek (born in 1990) who, despite being deaf, won four national titles in Motorcross, Amna Al Haddad (born in 1989), a Muslim weightlifter who began competing once the International Weightlifting Federation changed its rules to allow women to wear a unitard instead of a bikini, Ann Makosinski (born in 1997) who invented a flashlight that works using just body heat at just 15 years-old which won her first prize at the Google Science Fair, and Sonita Alizabeth (born in Afghanistan in 1996) who wrote a rap song called “Brides for Sale” because she didn’t want to enter into an arranged marriage. That song went viral and earned her a scholarship to study music in America.
Mazzy was particularly interested in Coy Mathis who was born in 2007. “She’s just a kid like me!” she explained. “What did she do???” Turns out Coy was born a boy but felt like a girl. Coy’s parents honored her wishes to be treated like a girl and encouraged everyone around them to do the same, but ran into a problem when school started and she was told to use the boy’s bathroom. Coy’s parents took their complaint to court and the judge ruled that Coy should be allowed to use whichever bathroom she wants.
The topic of being transgender had never come up before and I wasn’t sure Mazzy would understand. I thought she might confuse transgender with being gay or with a girl preferring to dress like a tomboy. (I think “tomboy” is a pretty antiquated phrase now.) But Mazzy let me know that they had already read a story about a transgender kid at school and I was late to the party. She seemed to understand the difference just fine.
“Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” has actually brought up a ton of different discussions, starting with the most obvious one— that historically women did not have the same rights as men, and that there is still a lot of work to be done. Both in laws and perception. We also talked about how black women have it even harder. Last year, I wrote a post about how Mazzy’s teacher told me that she is always the first one to point out unfairness or a gender inequity. She called her a “budding activist.” I think reading this book has a lot to do with it.
We’ve also stumbled into conversations on things like arranged marriages, religious differences, cultural differences, war, diseases and dictatorships. The stories might be told in a palatable way for kids but be prepared to elaborate on your own, depending on your child’s age and curiosity. One particularly tough read was the story of Irena Sendlerowa, who saved 2500 Jewish children during the Holocaust.
I have not yet talked to the girls about the Holocaust and the story does not go into very much detail, leaving it up to the parent to explain if they choose. I didn’t realize what I was reading until the middle of the page and by then, Mazzy had fallen asleep. Harlow was still listening and I assumed she wouldn’t understand so I continues. The story used the word “persecute” instead of “killed” and talked about saving children and reuniting them with their families so I thought maybe it would all go over her head or just seem like a story with a happy ending. Instead, Harlow was very quiet after I finished and said, “That story is very sad.” I asked her “why?” because I wasn’t sure what she had taken away from it. She said, “Because the kids were separated from their families.” I responded, “That’s why Irena is in the book! She helped those kids find their moms and dads.” Harlow smiled and we moved on. That’s a conversation for another day.
I think one of my favorite moments while reading the book was the day we got up to Hillary Clinton. Mazzy had checked to make sure she was in it when we first got the book (we got it pretty soon after the election) but we read the book in order, without skipping ahead so she had been waiting patiently for the day. The book is alphabetical, so they were both excited as soon as we reached the H section. The H section is particularly good because it also includes two other women that Mazzy had studied— Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller. Mazzy was so disappointed when Hillary Clinton lost (I get it, sweetie!) and I was pleased to see that reading her story really brought her peace of mind. It communicated that Hillary Clinton is still a trailblazer (“Hillary became the first woman nominated by a major party for the President of the United States”) and will be remembered in history as paving a path for the first woman president, whoever that is and whenever that happens.
“IT WILL HAPPEN,” I assured my girls. I wish I could say that it motivated them to make it a goal, but they both agreed— “Being president looks like too much work.”
Throughout our reading of the book, Mazzy has been bookmarking the women she is most interested in rereading. She’s got post-its on Ashley Fiolek, Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Hillary Clinton, Jane Goodall, Michelle Obama and Rosa Parks. She actually brought the book into school to show her science teacher Jane Goodall’s story because they had just discussed her in class.
When we reached Serena and Venus Williams, we had fun pulling up YouTube videos of their greatest moments so that my girls could actually see how powerful they are on the court. We also pulled up videos of Misty Copeland and Simone Biles, which really helped bring the greatness and strength of these real live women home.
As we neared completion of the book, Mazzy asked me if she thought that she would be a “rebel girl” one day. Then she got super excited when she saw there was the opportunity to write your own story and include a picture in the back. She hasn’t done it yet, but I know she will. She also asked me if I thought there would be a second “Good Night for Rebel Girls.” I told her that I hoped so because there are way more than 100 women who have done great things in this world and there are so many more stories to be told. There are also new stories being created all the time.
“Like mine,” she said.
“Like yours,” I agreed.
When “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2” came out at the end of last year, I gave it to Mazzy for Christmas.
The first thing she did was open it up and look for Ruby Bridges.
She was there. Page 152.
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