Forest Hills residents Sharita Manickam and Jen Bruno are looking to show young girls that no career is off limits.
Manickam and Bruno, who live in the same building, began coordinating play dates with their children after discovering that they had mutual friends.
Both women are in creative fields — Manickam developed a script for NBC and Bruno is a photographer — and are now using their talents to create “Rad Girl Revolution,” a 30-page photo book depicting young girls in careers often underrepresented by women.
“When my first daughter was a baby I had written a poem imagining all the things she could be when she grew up,” Manickam said. “[Jen] had photographed both my girls, so I approached her about the idea.”
On April 5, the duo launched a Kickstarter to raise $15,000 to edit, print and ship 1,000 copies of their photo book and to cover expenses for costumes, props and location fees. In just five days, $11,591 has been raised.
“It was around the time of the election when we were able to see kind of an energy and enthusiasm grow in the children that we were around,” Bruno said. “I think for our children, my son was so completely confused that there had not been a female president. That was the start of the first conversation that we had about an imbalance in gender in certain positions.”
Bruno has finished about half the portraits needed for the book and Manickam is writing short descriptive rhymes for each career. Girls are depicted in the book as a president, police officer, firefighter, chef, artist, astronaut, journalist and more. Local businesses have donated their spaces for photo shoots and parents have enthusiastically allowed their children to participate in the shoots.
In addition to a variety of careers, it was important to the duo to represent a diverse array of children.
“Being in a neighborhood where there are so many children of such diverse backgrounds we wanted to make sure that every child that picks up that book can see themselves in some way,” Bruno said. “We got models with Down syndrome, a model that has a severe hearing impairment, one with type 1 juvenile diabetes.”
Frankie Lyner, 2, who has Down syndrome, posed as an artist at a photo shoot at Little Pulp, a collaborative art and printmaking workshop for kids in Glendale.
“This project gives us a platform to show a child with a disability in a viable profession and will hopefully challenge the preconceptions of its readers and make them say, ‘Why not?'” said Farah Lyner, her mother.
Parents from around the country have expressed their support for the project and both women have been surprised by the amount of excitement the book has generated.
“I’m originally from Kansas. Sharita is from Maryland,” Bruno said. I think we’ve been so excited about the response that we’ve seen within our neighborhood but outside of New York, as well. We have so many people say, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this. I wanted my girls to see this.'”
Those who donate to the Kickstarter campaign will receive rewards like a Rad Girl coloring book, a sticker sheet, a Madam President T-shirt, a school pack with 10 copies of the book, sticker sheets and a customized lesson plan for teachers for pre-K through second-grade students.
People who pledge $2,000 or more will get a photo session for their children with 10 edited photos for up to two children.
Though there are children’s books depicting historic women in the past, Manickam said it’s important for young girls to think about their futures.
“As a mother of two girls, I believe it is very important to teach my children about the incredible women of the past, but also feel it’s essential for young girls to be able to picture themselves becoming the inspiring women of the future,” Manickam said. “We also want our book to appeal to a younger audience. Gender stereotypes are set in children as early as age 6, so it is crucial to expose them to empowering books and reach them during the critical developmental ages of 3 to 7.”
The books will be finished by November and though they will print 1,000 books, both Manickam and Bruno are hoping it impacts more girls and boys around the country.
“We would love to meet our goal we would really love to exceed our goal,” Bruno said. “We want this book in the hands of little girls and little boys across the country.”
The Kickstarter campaign will expire on May 5 and the project will only be funded if the money is collected before that date. To donate to this project, visit the Kickstarter page.