What began as a record-breaking crowdsourced campaign in 2016 has evolved into a highly successful multitiered middle grade publishing brand. From the independently published Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to the launch of a podcast and a line of bags and apparel, Rebel Girls endures in its mission to playfully celebrate high-achieving women and to motivate young readers. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Rebel Girls is launching a new initiative for kids and parents at home. BookLife caught up with Rebel Girls founder and CEO Elena Favilli, who, along with coauthor Francesca Cavallo, was named a 2018 PW Star Watch Superstar.
It’s easy to forget that the series began as a crowdsourced project. Can you talk a bit about how you first conceived of the book series and what inspired you to independently publish?
As a kid, I read the Brothers Grimm fairy tales every night before bed. But, growing up, I became more aware of a gender disparity in literature, specifically in children’s books. So I decided to move forward with writing a book about women throughout history, filling the gap. Publishing independently felt like the most honorable move. Working independently also gave me and my coauthor, Francesca Cavallo, more control over the writing style, the illustrations, and the staff. Almost everybody involved in the book’s production was a woman, and we’re still a majority-female company.
The illustrations in the Rebel Girls books are such an essential part of the stories they tell. How did you team up with your illustrators?
The portraits in the books were created by a number of diverse illustrators from all over the world. Every woman’s story is unique, and it’s clearly reflected in the variety of illustration styles. Our illustrators are all women, and most of them were discovered through Instagram. We ask that each of our illustrators feel connected to the woman whose portrait they draw.
From your perspective, was the brand’s rising success a whirlwind experience, or did you feel it was a long time coming?
The brand’s rising success was absolutely a whirlwind experience. Even with all of the support in the world, one can never truly know how a Kickstarter campaign will play out. That being said, I do think that demand for a book like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls had been rumbling for some time. The timing was perfect to introduce a new generation of young girls to 100 extraordinary women.
The Rebel Girls books seem to hit a sweet spot, in that they interest children and adults alike. How do you achieve this balance between kid and parent appeal?
The women we write about have fascinating lives, so it’s natural that both parents and kids find the books appealing. We don’t sugarcoat the tough times that some of these women have faced, but we do tell each story in a way that is relatable for children. Their stories are real, but they’re also inspiring.
Tell me about the new Rebel Girls at Home campaign.
During this difficult time, parents with young kids are cooped up at home, wondering how they can keep their children entertained and limit screen time. So Rebel Girls created a page directing parents to a multitude of free educational resources. We’ll be offering all of the activities from our chapter book series for download, as well as the entirety of our journal, I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions. Lastly, readers can listen to our podcast, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, so that episodes are listed in historical order on Spotify. Perfect history lesson at home!
What’s next for Rebel Girls?
Right now, we’re working on the third anthology of our original series, titled Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World. I’m excited to introduce our readers to a remarkable group of women who have changed the world. We hope that young readers will finish the book with the feeling that anything is possible, no matter the circumstances.