A children’s book whose authors say it was written to break gender stereotypes is breaking something else as well: crowdfunding records. Between a Kickstarter campaign, Indiegogo, and pre-orders, more than a million dollars have been raised to make Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls a reality.
The book by authors Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli will feature 100 stories about the lives and adventures of extraordinary women, such as Elizabeth I, Hillary Clinton, Frida Kahlo, and Serena Williams. The authors are co-founders of Timbuktu Labs, a company that develops educational apps, games, and magazines for children. Rebel Girls will be their seventh book.
“Our own journey as female entrepreneurs had a very big impact on us, and helped us realize the need for this book,” Cavallo says. “We witnessed the gender biases that female entrepreneurs face every day, so we started thinking, ‘What can we do to set this straight?’”
FROM MILAN TO SILICON VALLEY
Cavallo and Favilli are from Italy. They met while Cavallo was studying stage directing in Milan. She was in a play, dressed as a Russian warrior in the 1800s, and Favilli — a journalist and a friend of a classmate of Cavallo’s — attended one of the shows. They have been working together ever since, Cavallo says.
They co-founded Timbuktu Labs in 2012. Apple had just released the iPad, and one of Timbuktu’s first products was an iPad magazine for children. The publication won awards for its design and was named Best Children’s Magazine of the Year in London.
That year, Cavallo and Favilli moved to Silicon Valley, and the startup incubator 500 Startups became their first investor. During the incubation period, they raised more than $600,000, Cavallo says, and were able to continue working on their company.
GENDER BIAS, DISCRIMINATION, AND A DEATH THREAT
Despite their success, they faced obstacles in Silicon Valley that they believed were a form gender discrimination. In 2015 Favilli, the former journalist, voiced this opinion to the world in an op-ed for The Guardian titled, “Silicon valley is more ‘Flintstones’ than ‘Jetsons’ when it comes to women.”
In the op-ed, Favilli writes that success cannot shield you from sexism. “I’ve been repeatedly told that my idea was ‘nice but too small,’ my attitude ‘too weak’ or ‘too assertive’ and that ‘two girls alone’ (meaning my co-founder and I) could never raise money from Silicon Valley’s investors.”
The response Favilli received after publication troubled her and Cavallo even more. “Our experience resonated with female entrepreneurs,” Cavallo says. “But a substantial number of people — mainly men — got very aggressive in their feedback. To the point that Elena and I actually received a death threat.”
FAIRY TALES FOR GENDER EQUALITY
The violence of some readers’ responses reconfirmed something Cavallo and Favilli already suspected: that many people falsely believe gender discrimination is a thing of the past.
“So it was really important to us, as people who work in children’s media, to ask, ‘How can we offer girls inspiration and support, so maybe girls who are four years old now don’t have to face this when they are 30?’” Cavallo says.
She says they realized that it is very hard to find children’s books with female protagonists. So they decided to write one.
The stories in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls are written fairy-tale style. They start with “Once upon a time …” and though all the women are real people, there are no specific dates. “We don’t want the book to be an encyclopedia, we want it to be a book of bedtime stories, inspired by the lives of these women,” Cavallo says.
By turning the women’s lives into fairy tales, Cavallo and Favilli are hoping to change, and advance, fairy-tale archetypes. Many traditional fairy tales, for example, feature sisters who are jealous of each other. “In Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, there are three stories of sisters,” Cavallo says. “The Bronte sisters, who supported and encouraged each other to write; the Williams sisters, who share such a passion for the sport (of tennis) and who challenge each other; and the Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic, who joined forces to take down a terrible dictator.”
BREAKING CROWDFUNDING RECORDS
To fund Rebel Girls, Cavallo and Favilli launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2016, with a goal amount of $40,000. They met it within 30 hours. During their 29-day campaign, they raised a remarkable $675,614. From there, they moved to Indiegogo’s platform InDemand, where they passed $1 million in pre-orders — the highest amount ever raised for an original work. The only books more highly funded via crowdfunding have been a reprint of the Bible and a reissue of a comic book.
The support for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls came from backers in 71 countries. Cavallo says the funding campaigns helped them build a community, and in a way the community helped create the book.
The book will be self-published. Cavallo and Favilli wrote the stories and designed the book themselves. In particular, they wanted each story to feature a portrait of the woman or women the story is about. So they asked their crowdfunding backers to tell them about their favorite female artists, and they had an email address for artists to send them their work.
Between the artists they met through the crowdfunding campaigns, artists they followed on Instagram and reached out to, and artists they’ve worked with in the past, Cavallo and Favilli were able to illustrate the book with 100 portraits by female artists around the world.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
When the funding campaigns were launched, Cavallo and Favilli had written a few of the stories, but not all. So when the campaigns ended at the beginning of summer, they flew back to Italy, to a remote area where Favilli had grown up, locked themselves away for three months and finished the book.
Earlier this month, September 2016, they mailed their final drafts in for publication. The first round will be 60,000 copies. The book is still available for preorder until the end of September, and costs $35.
“It’s a precious book,” Cavallo says. “Thanks to the success of the crowdfunding, we were able to not cut any corners. It is very high quality, and we’re very proud of what is going to arrive in the mailboxes of our backers.”