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The Rebel Girls Phenomenon

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-damental Rights.

(by Claudia Morelli)

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a collection of a hundred tales about (extra)ordinary women, which has become a publishing sensation. It is one of the most successful titles in the history of crowdfunding, it has sold millions of copies and it was translated into dozens of languages.

Since its early days in 2016, the project has continued to be enhanced by further collections, some biographical spin-offs, and a guided journal to help girls train their rebel spirits as well as numerous additional podcasts.

1. Origins

The books stem from Favilli and Cavallo’s frustration with the lack of female role models in children’s literature and movies, whose protagonists are generally men.

The authors understood the importance of telling the stories of some of the most powerful women in history to inspire children’s imagination and help humanity make progress.

For all these reasons, they decided to offer an alternative to the large plethora of fairytales in which girls pine for their princes. So… once upon a time, there were female scientists, judges, athletes, writers, musicians and politicians, all with remarkable stories and all linked by the aim of building a world where gender will not define how big you can dream.

This simple idea was the bedrock of the challenge of transforming children’s storytelling itself. However, how is it possible that few stories about famous women were so successful in a relatively short time?

2. Reasons for its success

First, it is crucial to understand that from its very beginning, the project was conceived as a platform to highlight the abilities and the skills of women. Indeed, the entire team consists of female professionals: the editors, the illustrators and – of course – the writers. They all took part in a project focused on female talent. The podcasts too (whose purpose is to provide extended narrative versions of key stories) are the result of the work of women. This aspect is a crucial metaphor that reminds us of the importance of empowering women’s voices.

Furthermore, the goal of every tale is to celebrate a particular trait of each woman. One of the main criteria in the selection process was diversity to include different protagonists coming from all over the world, and different ages – because there is not only one acceptable way of being a woman.

Moreover, Favilli and Cavallo understood that young readers were not exclusively interested in dragons and princesses, and therefore they decided to celebrate work as the magic power that could transform the world. Theirs is a non-fictional revolution!

Another aspect worth noticing is the presence of controversial figures, such as Margaret Thatcher, Aung San Suu Kyi and Hilary Clinton. It certainly is a provocation:

another relevant purpose of the author was showing how women should not always be pleasant.

If you are a leader, you have to accept that sometimes you will not be loved, while this is obvious for male leaders, it is not the case for women leaders.

2.1 The impact of social media

As mentioned earlier, modern technologies have been crucial for the success of the project. From the initial crowdfunding to the final distribution, the authors reached a milestone that perfectly fits in the real dynamics of feminism.

The so-called fourth-wave feminism is indeed characterized by its use of social media: the internet is a mean to make connections, share experiences and facilitate mobilization all over the world. Whether it is about denouncing something publically or organizing marches, digital media allow people to go beyond local boundaries and give visibility to global issues such as body shaming, sexual harassment and impunity.

Another peculiarity of fourth-wave feminism the intersectional approach whereby feminism is part of a greater awareness of different forms of oppression – concerning sexual orientation, racism, classism and ableism – and it finally makes contemporary activism a precious resource full of potential.

All of these aspects make it clear how and why in recent years a children’s book has played such a significant role in the political and cultural revolution. In the digital age, a book can still set the world on fire!


The essence and the social impact of such an ambitious project are not easy to understand. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly easy to feel engaged in the book and enjoy reading it both because of its appropriate selection of the characters and its charming illustrations.

These tales about ordinary women and their extraordinary accomplishments are worth reading again and again. From defying the Taliban to excelling in sports, from fighting for suffrage to running for president… each of these women left a mark of fairness for the generations to come.

Of course, there is still a long road ahead; as of now, the most surprising aspect of our so-called advanced society is its deep need for something as simple as a collection of women’s stories. The simplicity of this idea is what takes our breath away.

[1]: Introductory statement in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls vol. 1.

[2]: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.



C. GILLIGAN, In a different voice, 1982

E. FAVILLI F. CAVALLO, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, 2016

S. SCARPONI (a cura di), Diritto e genere. Analisi interdisciplinare e comparata, 2016

Rebel Girls Phenomenon - Claudia Morelli
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