I send my three-year-old son to bed with a dolly in a pink dress. I tell my five-year-old daughter that girls can be astronauts.
We’re a girl power, gender-neutral sort of household. And yet, my daughter wanted to throw the school race, so that one of the boys could win. Why? Because she loves him, and if she lets him win he’ll love her back. WRONG. He’ll love you because you’re fast and strong and you beat his ass. My son says: “you’re my Mummy you don’t work. Only Daddy works”. ALSO WRONG. Mummy works. Hard. Cramming it into every spare hour of every day. And then, the pièce de résistance… my daughter is practising storytelling. She says, “let me tell you a story about the time the prince saved the mermaid from drowning”. Say what?! I clambered onto my soapbox and retold the actual Hans Christian Andersen story of a spirited mermaid who saves a drowning prince. Then my five-year-old matter-of-factly replies… “But it’s better when the boy saves the girl”. FACEPALM.
This stuff… this whole, “boys are princes and are strong, and girls get saved”. It’s not nurture; it’s not coming from me. I can only think we’re still a few generations away from little girls and boys no longer seeing the world in hues of pinks and blues. Maybe when the #metoo dust settles? Hell, the World Economic Forum says it could be another two centuries before we close the gender pay gap. But in the meantime, there are books. We can tell stories about strong, clever, inventive and brave girls. Better still, we can retell classic stories in this way. Super stylish siblings David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney have done just that.
Sleeping Beauty – a mid-century fairy tale, is pretty hip. Annabel lives with her aunts Rosalind and Flora, and on her first birthday, a spiteful (uninvited) neighbour gatecrashes the party and curses Annabel. You know how it goes… “Before her 16th birthday is over, she will prick her finger on a needle and die!” * Cue evil cackle * But true to the classic tale, all is not lost. Aunty Flora changes the spell so that if Annabel pricks her finger, she’ll sleep for a thousand years. Better.
The years roll by and Annabel grows up to be a cool cat. She likes science fiction and she dreams about the future. But on her 16th birthday, a special delivery puts her future in jeopardy. She unwraps the gift – a record player – and pricks her finger on the needle (stylus’ can be tricky things) and falls into an everlasting sleep. Aunty Rosalind’s inconsolable and grows into an enormous rose tree – with thick vines and thorns to encircle and protect Annabel. Flora, in turn, writes down the story of their Sleeping Beauty so it’ll never be lost, and turns herself into a light – a beacon to mark where Annabel sleeps.
Fast-forward a thousand years and the city has grown around the old rose tree. A girl called Zoe is in her library and discovers ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ book. She puts two and two together, realises that today is a thousand years since the story was written, and goes off in search of Annabel.
Now let’s pause and review. We’ve got an all-girl cast. We’ve got a hipster record player, a library (double points there), and best of all, a clever girl who likes to read and who, I’m sure you’ve guessed, ultimately saves the day. NOW WHO NEEDS PRINCES?!
As the title suggests, the story’s set in the 1940s/1950s, and who better to tackle the retro illustrations than David Roberts, who studied fashion design and previously worked as a milliner and fashion illustrator. He’s got the Aunts decked out in swing dresses, with their hair in glorious 50s waves.
Then as we zoom into the super-sci-fi future – it all goes Jetsons style. Zoe’s on a hoverboard pulling books down from the shelves as a robot librarian trundles by. Lynn’s a librarian and her vision of the library of the future is so much bigger and better than today’s. Let’s hope it’s a good omen for our future, and that those library shelves groan under the weight of stories like these. Stories, that are stylish, clever, and where girls save the day.
“Come on,” she said, taking Zoe’s hand “Show me the future,” and they stepped out together into the bright morning sunshine.
Psst! Want more? The duo have an entire series, more details here.