Rebel Girls is an omnichannel platform that stands for diversity, representation, sisterhood, and authenticity in publishing, digital content, products, and experiences. They have historically showcased Black women in their books, but the latest volume in their New York Times bestselling series is an entire anthology on the global contributions Black women have made to society.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic tells the stories of 100 barrier-breaking Black women from over 30 countries ranging from athlete Naomi Osaka and poet Amanda Gorman to singer Rosetta Tharpe and journalist Ida B. Wells. Jes Wolfe, the CEO of Rebel Girls, explains how this latest volume aligns with their mission and vision:
“We want girls to be the stars of their own stories and see themselves as the heroes of tomorrow. Our vision is a world where all children regardless of gender, ethnicity, background, or ableness, grow up inspired and confident that they can follow their dreams and passions. We believe that this will translate to a more gender-equal world.”
Even as the number of diverse children’s books increases substantially, the number of books written by people of color still has not kept pace. In 2018, the number of diverse books being published was reported at 31%, but just 7% of Black, Latinx, and Native authored the stories. School-aged children are members of the most diverse generation to date, yet representation in their literature is lacking.
“Put simply, children’s books that showcase Black women and girls are lacking. If you can see it, you can be it; and right now, children’s literature is not doing a good enough job of showing Black girls all that they can be,” Wolfe adds.
The best accounts of an underserved group are usually told by the voices within that group. Rebel Girls’ books and audio stories are no different. Hundreds of women and non-binary artists contributed to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic, like Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Lilly Workneh and #BlackGirlMagic originator CaShawn Thompson. Below Workneh and Thompson not only discuss the unique stories included in the children’s book, but also Black women and girls as important content creators and consumers.
Christine Michel Carter: What inspired you to contribute to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic?
Lilly Workneh: I’ve always had a goal and dream of telling stories that amplify the Black experience in a children’s book. Rebel Girls came to me in the fall of 2020 about the idea and mentioned I would be collaborating with CaShawn, the mother of the #BlackGirlMagic movement. It was a great sign to me that the book would be authentic in carrying on the spirit of #BlackGirlMagic.
CaShawn Thompson: Rebel Girls thought it would be a good idea for me to write a letter to the reader, which became the foreword. As a writer, I’m much more personal when I say “Dear Reader” as opposed to just delivering an introduction. I think this book’s lessons serve as tools to combat social situations.
Carter: Which #BlackGirlMagic stories did you both find most inspiring?
Workneh: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but most of my standouts have backgrounds in storytelling. Joy-Ann Reid, for example, is a mentor and inspiration of mine who is featured in the book. Another would be Octavia Butler, the mother of afro-futurism and a science fiction legend. I also enjoy some of the little-known stories of Black women like Margaret Busby, the first UK Black publisher. Every Black woman is magical. #BlackGirlMagic is not something you obtain or acquire, it’s who you are. It’s not just in the women who break barriers, it’s also in the everyday ways we exist.
Thompson: I’m driven by social good. When we were picking women for the book, my daughter reminded me to choose the Black woman who made me feel important and set the stage for the work I do today. So I chose humanitarian Mother Clara McBride Hale. I have a background in early childhood education so her work impacting women, infants, and families resonated with me.
Carter: Lilly, your favorites are interesting, especially considering the relationship between Black women and storytelling. They’re large consumers of all creative content, including books. What impact do you think this book will have on them?
Workneh: I think Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic does a good job of featuring Black characters and deliberately trying to close the diversity gap. Many children’s books speak to boys and center on their experiences or feature animals as the main character. They don’t share the stories of Black women in non-fictional ways. There are also themes and keywords highlighted throughout each story that ties back to the glossary. We were also intentional about the fairytale-style format of the book; we wanted to flip that narrative on its head and use it to tell real Black stories and real-world challenges that feel magical.
Thompson: I hope Black women get a bonding experience with their children, asking them open-ended questions about each woman to encourage critical thinking. I also hope they see how intentional we were in the representation of Black stories. Had a book like this existed for me as a Black girl, perhaps the world would have seemed a bit bigger (and more open) to me as a Black woman today.
Carter: CaShawn, as an advocate, Black mother of seven and grandmother of six, do you ever find it difficult to encourage Black girls to discover their magic amidst this time of racial injustice?
Thompson: It’s been difficult. For instance, the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election made things look bleak to me, but this new generation is instilling hope in me. They will take my advocacy and #BlackGirlMagic to a future I will never see.
Carter: Lilly, you are committed to teaching the general public that they can learn from and empathize with the stories of underrepresented voices. Talk to me about how this book is an extension of that commitment.
Workneh: I think it’s important for non-Black kids to be exposed to these stories if we want to raise a more inclusive and empathetic world. As caregivers and parents, we need to be aware of the value this story brings in teaching children how Black women have contributed to the world. It provides a stronger and more accurate worldview.
Carter: Lilly, as a Black journalist, what are your thoughts on the widespread adoption of the term #BlackGirlMagic by corporations? Do you feel Thompson gets the recognition she deserves for creating it?
Workneh: I think that has been an unfortunate pattern I’ve witnessed as a reporter and journalist documenting the rise of social movements. Black creators have an endless abundance of creativity but we often don’t get credit; our work is commodified, stolen, or reappropriated. When CaShawn started the movement in 2013 I prayed she would continue to be seen as its creator. Sure widespread adoption is the beauty of creating something so powerful, but for the authenticity and cultural respect to be there, the creators must be involved. That’s exactly why Rebel Girls reached out to CaShawn when they decided to make this volume; this is a tangible product she can leave for generations to come.
Rebel Girls plans to celebrate the release of the book as well as International Day of the Girl with a #CelebrateBlackGirlMagic themed event with prominent Black female figures like Oprah Winfrey. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic was written for children ages six and older.