From the creators of the globally bestselling series, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, come two inspiring new books based on the lives of Madam C.J. Walker, America's first self-made millionaire and Ada Lovelace, British technology pioneer. The all-female team behind Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls returns with a brand new, beautifully illustrated series of fictionalised biographies celebrating the achievements of women past and present. Full of life-lessons and interactive exercises as well as fascinating stories and original artwork, the series aims to give children the practical skills and knowledge to help them build their futures.
Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business follows Sarah Breedlove Walker's journey to becoming America's first self-made millionaire, defeating the odds to found a beauty business whose products still dominate the black hair care industry today. Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code follows the story of British technology and computer science pioneer, Ada Lovelace, who jump-started the digital age nearly 200 years ago when she wrote what would become the world's first programming language.
At a time when technology makes it easier for women to play a more active role globally, Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business and Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code both encourage entrepreneurial spirit in young minds, instilling lessons about the hard work, creativity and determination it takes to translate a vision into a reality. They also feature afterwords on each subject's legacy, along with activities and challenges centered on entrepreneurship and coding respectively.
These are the first two titles in Rebel Girls' new series of fictionalised biographies for readers aged six to nine, all of which tackle serious subject matter in a sensitive and imaginative way that will encourage conversations with adults.
The series reflects Rebel Girls' overarching ambition to bring female stories to the fore, at a time when studies show a continued gender imbalance in children's books. Nielsen Book- Scan research, looking at the top 100 bestselling picture children's books in 2017, found that there were three male characters for every two females, and only 38% of speaking parts going to female characters.
The first volume of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was published in Australia in March 2017, and fast became an international publishing sensation selling over one million copies worldwide, with a copy sold in the UK every two minutes. Rebel Girls titles have now sold over 4 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 47 languages. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was the highest crowdfunded publishing project in history, only surpassed by Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2.
Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business
Born on a plantation in Louisiana in 1867, Sarah Breedlove Walker was the first member of her family to be born free of slavery and attend school. As a child, she learned the value of hard work, cooking, cleaning and picking cotton.
However, by the age of eight she was an orphan; by 14, a wife; by 18, a mother, and by 20 a widow. When stress caused Sarah's hair to fall out, she invented a recipe to encourage her hair to grow back and, in doing so, launched a natural hair care business that would change the black beauty industry forever.
At first, no one took her seriously enough to buy her products. So, Sarah rebranded herself as 'Madam C.J. Walker', a high society businesswoman with the authority and know-how to help black women with their hair. As Madam C.J. Walker, she built a business empire, dominated the black hair care market, and offered opportunities to poor women in her community to have a path to financial freedom.
This is the story of a leader in the hair care industry, now a multibillion-dollar industry. It is also a tale highlighting the importance of empowering women to become economically independent and to use their influence to make positive change. As Madam C.J. Walker said herself: "I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavour to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race."
Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code
As a child, Ada Lovelace was obsessed with machines and creatures that fly, even going so far as to write her own book about them called Flyology. Enrolled by her mother on a rigorous syllabus of mathematics, languages and geography – to counteract any influence from Ada's father, the poet Lord Byron – Ada became intent on leaving behind a mathematical legacy.
As an adult, she longed to study mathematics and to work alongside the eccentric inventor Charles Babbage. However, as a woman living in the Victorian era, Ada's options were limited. She commenced on an intensive path of learning, hiring tutors to teach her absolutely everything about maths and numbers. She ended up working alongside Babbage - now nicknamed "the father of computers" - on what many consider to be the first computer programme, going on to become one of the world's most significant pioneers in the field of computer technology.
This is the story of a world-leader in computer sciences, but it is also a tale of the importance of empowering women to make invaluable contributions in STEM. With recent research finding that teenage girls are more likely to pursue maths and physical sciences if they feel confident in their skills and abilities and the subjects are useful and have a social value, the story of Ada Lovelace will inspire girls to know that they too can become technological pioneers.
Question: What is Rebel Girls?
Answer: Rebel Girls is an award-winning cultural media engine, spanning over 70 countries. We publish books that highlight the often hidden achievements of women past and present, by sharing their life stories accompanied by beautiful illustrations by female artists. Our mission is to connect girls and women to real-life role models, inspiring their potential.
Question: Why did you establish Rebel Girls?
Answer: Rebel Girls is on a mission to balance power and create a more equal world. The idea for the books came about following a 2011 survey of 6,000 children's books, published between 1900 and 2000. According to the survey, 37% of the books lacked even one single speaking female character. Further research showed that, by the age of six, girls already think that they are less capable than boys. We were reminded how important female role models and representation are to women's success. And so Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was born.
Question: What defines a 'rebel girl'?
Answer: To us, being a 'rebel girl' means living on your own terms and resisting society's expectations. Most women face some sort of sexism on a daily basis. Being a rebel is about finding a way of surviving, succeeding against the odds, and making the most out of your circumstances. The rebel girls featured in these books are not perfect women but, in their lifetimes, they have achieved something extraordinary. They show us that real women can achieve incredible goals and, like all of us, are still subject to difficulties along the way.
Question: What challenges did you face establishing Rebel Girls?
Answer: It was initially a challenge to accept that we wouldn't be backed by the traditional publishing world. We understood that nothing like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls had ever been published and we would never be able to raise money from an investor. So we didn't go to a publisher. We started as a Kickstarter campaign and had enormous success: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls became the most funded book in the history of crowdfunding, only surpassed by Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2. We also underestimated the popularity and impact we'd make. We began as a small team, with only one customer service member. At the beginning, we could barely keep up with the overwhelming number of orders our readers placed. Now, we have it down pat.
Question: Why do you feel the need for Rebel Girls is so important in 2019?
Answer: These books are still necessary because there is a shortage of female voices in children's literature and popular culture: the majority of books and TV shows we had growing up lacked female characters in leading roles. Recent research shows that a quarter of the top 100 bestselling illustrated children's books in 2018 portrayed only white people. Even when they did include characters who were female or from BAME backgrounds, those characters were much less likely to speak than white, male characters; almost 70% of the books with illustrations of BAME characters featured them only in non-speaking roles. The fight for change continues!
As well as fighting systemic imbalances in equality, we recognise the ongoing need to redefine femininity in line with our changing world. There are plenty of brands who continue to reinforce the status quo, and we want to show girls that they have boundless potential. As well as being princesses and fairies, they can be rock stars, physicists, CEOs, firefighters and secret agents. By featuring role models who challenge conceptions of what it means to be female, we can offer them alternative visions of success.
Question: What have been Rebel Girls' main achievements since the brand first launched?
Answer: The first volume of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was published in March 2017, and fast became an international publishing sensation selling over one million copies worldwide, with a copy sold in the UK every two minutes. Rebel Girls titles have now sold over 4 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 47 languages. We have won multiple accolades. We received the Australian Book Industry Award for International Book, we were nominated for Waterstone's Book of the Year, and have been featured in the New York Times Bestseller list. We also used profits from our bestselling books to donate $100,000 to the Malala Fund, which champions every girl's right to 12 years of free, safe and quality education. We've garnered endorsements from some of the world's most inspiring women, from Malala Yousafzai to Hillary Clinton to Melinda Gates.
Question: What makes you most proud?
Answer: We are proud that the books have been so popular and inspired so many people, of all ages and in many different countries. Every girl deserves to grow up thinking she can be anything she wants - and we hope we've spread that message. It's become more than a series of books. It's a Rebel Girls movement – which empowers girls and women through the bright example of extraordinary, unconventional women who changed, and are changing, the world. We consistently have an incredible influx of messages from our readers and fans, thanking us for the impact the books have had on their daughters, sisters, nieces and family. We also hear from backers who have supported us from the very beginning and thus have a strong connection to the books. And our readers are always posting images of their family engaging with the books. We didn't necessarily set out with the intention of creating an online community, but it certainly happened--it speaks to the positive effect the books have had on all of us.
Question: Why did you decide to progress the series with chapter books?
Answer: We asked our readership directly for new content ideas, and there was a unanimous demand for Rebel Girls chapter books. This series gives us an opportunity to dive deeper into the lives of some of the women who inspired us in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. With the original books, we wanted to feature as many women as possible, to give girls access to a plethora of role models--but that also meant keeping their stories short. With the chapter books, we intend to delve into the complexities of a select few women. They deserve books solely dedicated to them " their hardships, their accomplishments, everything they endured as women. We want their full stories to be told.
Question:. How different will the chapter books be to the biographies featured in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls?
Answer: Each title will feature a single woman and will tackle serious subjects in an imaginative way that encourages conversations with parents and teachers. Of course, this gives us more space to share detailed aspects of their lives. They also feature afterwords on each subject's legacy, along with activities and challenges centred on the books' themes. The stories don't shy away from the challenges these women faced, but still manage to capture the warmth and wit that made Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls so popular.
Question: How many chapter books will there be in the series?
Answer: We currently have five titles in the pipeline, as part of the series. The first two – Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code and Madam C. J. Walker Builds a Business – will be published in hardback on 12th November 2019. The third and fourth books in the series – slated for publication in spring 2020 – will be about Kenyan environmentalist and activist Wangari Maathai (the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize) and Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei (the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest). The final book in the series will be released early fall 2020. Each book is representative of the 5 different Rebel Girls categories: champion, warrior, pioneer, leader and creator.
Question: What age range are the chapter books targeted at?
Answer: The new series aims to inspire girls aged six to nine years old. However, like all our titles, we hope they will appeal to rebels (girls and boys) of all ages.
Question: Why did you choose Ada Lovelace and Madam C.J. Walker as the protagonists of the first two chapter books?
Answer: These are two stories we loved from the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series. We thought it would be important to feature a woman in STEM because it is still a very male dominated field, and it's crucial that girls are introduced at an early age. We reveled in Ada's spunk and independence as a child and wanted to ignite the same mindset with girls today. We also felt it was important to show a woman in a position of leadership, as Madam C.J. Walker was in her company. Her story is a wonderful example of persistence, resistance, and fighting for one's community. She speaks to the black experience in America, and representation is important--especially for young girls who don't see hair like theirs in the media. Neither woman is living, and both were alive at a time period when women were offered fewer privileges. I think it is valuable for young girls to understand how far women have come in regards to freedom and equality, though we still have a long way to go. Lastly, both women were chosen because there is a wide breadth of information in museums, libraries and resource centers on each. We wanted to be sure our representation of both women was historically accurate and derivative of first-hand accounts.
Question: How much of the chapter books are based on real-life events?
Answer: These are fictionalised biographies based on real events in the subject's lives--we conducted a thorough research process for both books. On Ada Lovelace, our editorial team first read 4 biographies on her life. Then, one of our writers traveled to Oxford and read a multitude of Ada's archived, handwritten letters. She also went to the London Science Museum to review the analytical engine, and visited the estates of Ada and Charles Babbage. On Madam C.J. Walker, one of our writers already had a close relationship with her great-great granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles. A'Lelia has written about her great-great-grandmother in biographies, and reviewed our final manuscript. We also researched the peripheral characters in each story, to ensure we had a developed understanding of their character. Annie Turnbo, Booker T. Washington, Charles Babbage and Lady Byron were all given extensive attention. As we speak, a similar research process is in the works for Junko Tabei and Wangari Maathai.
Question: What other Rebel Girls products are currently in the pipeline?
Answer: In addition to the chapter book series, we run a podcast series based on the stories featured in our books and, in July 2019, we launched Rebel Girls Boundless, a digital magazine for adults that offers authentic perspectives from women around the globe, while celebrating their accomplishments. Boundless tackles issues that affect all women regardless of their political beliefs, and speaks to the importance of raising the next generation of confident girls.
We are also working on a new Rebel Girls Imprint, which will primarily publish fiction by female-identifying and non-binary authors across children's publishing, including board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels. It has always been our mission to empower women and girls through the act of storytelling. Now we are taking the next step in raising the voices of young, female writers. Through the Rebel Girls Imprint, we are creating a safe and trusted space for writers eager to break the mold. The goal is to publish 5 books by 2021, with an initial focus on chapter books and middle-grade fiction.
Question: What is next for Rebel Girls? Where do you see the Rebel Girls brand in a year / 5 years / 10 years?
Answer: We need to keep the conversation going and celebrate the incredible achievements of women so that children grow up with a variety of role models. Through Boundless we are expanding our network and audience to reach the grown Rebel Girl generation -- women who have not necessarily interacted with our brand in the past. As we continue to grow, I want Rebel Girls to be a household name, a one-stop shop for womanhood. I'd also like to increase our philanthropic arm and begin hosting events. I want girls and women of all ages to find something that speaks to them in the content we create. Of course, we made a name for ourselves in publishing, but we will continue to create content through other forms of media. Technology has the ability to create an honest space, a space where women can unite and discuss the shared experiences they don't feel comfortable revealing in public. I think the future of feminism lies here. The first books were such a hit because they connected women from all over the world with a common identity. I always want Rebel Girls to be considered a place where women can find solace in that identity.
Question: What do you hope will be the legacy of Rebel Girls?
Answer: Our mission is to raise confident girls who will become the next generation of change-makers, innovators, and leaders. Of course, I would like the next generation to grow up in a world nonexistent of sexism. I'd like girls to feel free in the pursuit of their passions. I don't want them to feel constrained by the box that society places them inside. I never want a girl to face pushback as she embarks upon her dream. I want girls to grow-up feeling equitable to the boys in their classroom, and I want them to bring those feelings all the way through adulthood. I do believe that the legacy of Rebel Girls contributes to that future--it's not wishful thinking if we fight to make it our reality. Every time a girl is encouraged, and not second-guessed, we normalize that future.
Interview by Brooke Hunter