By Tammy Scileppi
Forest Hills moms Sarita Manickam and Jennifer Bruno came up with their children’s book idea, “RAD Girl Revolution,” hoping that it would empower little girls to, as the acronym suggests, “Rise Above Doubt” and “Reach Any Dream.”
But if your young sons read it, the inspiring messages therein will hopefully help them to better understand as well, that in this brave new world, girls and boys can both dream big.
Set for a November release, the 38-page hardcover for kids ages 3 to 7 will feature 30 inspiring storybook-style photos of real little girls in fields typically under-represented by women, along with a rhyming verse describing each career. The book highlights a variety of occupations, such as: a scientist, judge, artist, astronaut, doctor, pilot, journalist, director, chef, author, CEO, engineer, paleontologist, president, and many more.
“RAD Girl Revolution” was written by Manickam and photo illustrated by Bruno, who were neighbors. There are over 50 girls featured in the book, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old. Most hail from Queens, others from Manhattan and Long Island.
The two friends managed to self-publish their book thanks to support from donations they received in just eight days, totaling $21,611. The pair said they were both inspired by the increased momentum towards gender equality and felt if they were able to put their images and rhymes in front of today’s youth, they could perhaps better level the playing field from the start.
“We want to expose girls to possibilities for their future they might not have otherwise considered. We hope to reach them before the age of doubt, so their parents can nurture their dreams,” Manickam said.
Both Bruno and Manickam said they didn’t want their message getting muddled in the fantasy of typical picture book illustrations:
“We are showing young girls career opportunities they may not otherwise know exist, and we believe photos of real girls help further drive home the reality,” they said. “Plus, as anyone with little kids knows, children love looking at photographs of other kids! Children are intrigued by their peers – influenced even, so we felt the positive and empowering portrayal of real little girls was a must.”
Since there are many empowering children’s books suited for girls ages 7 and older, the mothers decided they wanted theirs 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 years old,” they said.
Today’s new-age women’s movement is in full swing, in all its feminist glory, causing quite a ruckus across New York City and the nation. Anger has been erupting over gender inequality and gender-biased power relations (#MeToo), as well as a host of other hot button issues that need fixing.
So, what are little girls learning from all this?
As loving moms who are juggling work and home responsibilities and doing it all — with or without their partner’s help — many young, impressionable children are being exposed to a cacophony of confusing messages about women, either from the media, or from people around them.
As you may have noticed, there’s no shortage of bummed-out people out there, both women and men, who have a lot to say. Of course, it’s up to parents then to shield kids from all the bad stuff. But there are times when moms and dads should be talking to their youngsters about what they’re hearing and seeing. And clarifying, for instance, what it is that women are fighting for.
Undoubtedly, there is plenty of injustice that needs to be addressed, and it’s about time that women’s demands in 2018 are being spotlighted front and center. In conversations that women are having with each other, many have been sharing about important matters that impact their daily lives.
Concerned parents like Manickam, who are raising powerful daughters, and others like Bruno, who have sons, are teaching their kids the message that girls can do anything.
“While we wish this movement wasn’t necessary in 2018, we are uplifted by the momentum and feel very positive about what this means for our children’s future,” said Bruno, who became fast friends with Manickam when their kids started having playdates together.
The two moms discovered that they shared creative interests and similar values in raising socially-conscious children. Manickam has two daughters — Leela, 5, and Ella, 21 months. Bruno’s son Henry, is also 5 years old.
Manickam started a career in marketing, but found a love for writing soon after giving birth to her first daughter. She then broke into the highly male-dominated world of television writing and co-wrote and developed a script for NBC.
Bruno had left her career in property management to move to New York City and pursue new passions. Shortly after giving birth to her son, she launched a photography business using her enthusiasm and respect for children to capture genuine lifetime memories for families.
When Leela was born, Manickam was imagining all the things she could be someday.
“I took my daydreams to paper and wrote a poem describing different careers. Several years later, during the 2016 presidential election, Jen and I were living in the same building and having playdates for our kids,” Manickam said. “While discussing current events, it became apparent to us how few children realized a woman could actually be president.”
“I had always had the idea in the back of my head to turn my poem into a book, but it seemed more important now than ever,” she continued. “Since Jen had photographed my children before, I approached her about doing photo illustrations of the careers described in my poem. Jen enthusiastically agreed, and ‘RAD Girl Revolution’ was born.”
According to Bruno, their friends have been incredibly supportive of their creative endeavor, cheering them on at every step of the way.
“We’ve learned more about the power of ‘girl power’ than we expected (and we had very high hopes), but one of the coolest parts has been the support we’ve received from dads,” Bruno said. “Many of the dads involved in our project are the biggest advocates, and that feels incredible! Many of our highest donating Kickstarter backers are dads. We’ve enthusiastically collaborated with other Kickstarter brands operated by dads who’ve sought us out and given nothing but amazing support. That feels like hope to me. It feels like walking in the right direction. Feels like the team is coming together. And that feels amazing.”
So, what do these enlightened moms tell their children about gender equality?
“Sharita and I both live and operate in very egalitarian homes, and we actively discuss, read, and expose our kids to diverse, stereotype-defying material. But even though we feel we are proactive, the reality of what they see in society still shapes our children’s views,” Bruno said. “You can certainly shape a mindset at home, but it takes a global effort to really solidify what you teach.”
It’s all about a different mindset in terms of gender equality and what girls and women are capable of accomplishing. Many schools in the city and elsewhere have been adopting increasingly progressive attitudes and curriculums that seem to echo that mantra.
“My older daughter is in kindergarten and as far as I know they have not touched on the topic of gender equality yet. As far as social justice issues, they have learned age-appropriate lessons about the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Manickam said. “I think it’s important for parents and teachers to lightly introduce these subjects around this age. Gender stereotypes are set in children as early as age 6, so it is crucial to reach them during the critical developmental ages of 3 to 7 years old.”
Both women are excited about the conversations their book has already sparked.
“We know this is something that will help with the introductory curriculum about gender equality. Customized lesson plans are included in our Rad School Pack and are available for preschool through second grade,” Bruno said.
Obviously, more work needs to be done with regard to gender equality and other issues affecting women. But in many cases, it seems women have been doing better than even they may have realized. According to recent reports, more young women than men are graduating from college and secondary schools, and it turns out female students outshine their male counterparts when it comes to grades.
There are more females than ever before in formerly male-dominated jobs and positions of power across the board: in media, government, journalism, business, entertainment, sportscasting, the arts, and other fields. While the wage gap still exists, the good news is that society has started to recognize that there have been some deep-rooted issues and evils that must continue to be addressed as the next generation of movers and shakers come of age.
Change is in the air and as society evolves and attitudes change, it will become clearer that the entry of women into positions of power and decision-making is a crucial step in the development of an egalitarian world.
“Our conversations about gender equality have increased since the birth of ‘RAD Girl Revolution,’ so my son has a heightened awareness about how his female friends might experience fewer opportunities,” Bruno said. “That being said, he’s never seen a female firefighter in real life and was very surprised the day I told him that women could absolutely hold that position. Since then, he’s focused on every fire engine that passes, hoping to see a woman inside.”
Kids should be told that respecting everyone is the right thing to do. And, while our culture focuses on girl power, let’s not forget that little boys’ hopes and dreams should matter as well. The authors of “RAD Girl Revolution” believe that every opportunity should be open to every single one of our kids.