Puisand Lai Among Those Featured In Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls Series, 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers
“It’s our job at Rebel Girls to celebrate what they have done, cheer them on, and amplify their stories so that the next generation of girls can carry the torch.”
The fifth volume of the best-selling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers, shines a spotlight on extraordinary young women who are making their mark on the world today.
Readers will celebrate well-known women like Greta Thunberg, Bethany Hamilton, Bindi Irwin, Zendaya, and the Linda Lindas, and meet up-and-coming powerhouses like inventor Vinisha Umashankar, fashion designer Marine Serre, stuntwoman Sadiqua Bynum, filmmaker Taegen Yardley, poet Alexandra Huynh, and environmental activist Helena Gualinga.
The girls and women in the book come from different countries and backgrounds and have a wide array of interests and accomplishments. Barrier-breaking performer Keke Palmer became the youngest talk show host in US history. Entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer founded a lemonade company to help save honeybees. Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal turned a hobby into an Olympic dream. And British body positivity advocate Megan Jayne Crabbe and Indigenous artist Te Manaia Jennings inspire kids to keep their minds healthy.
With a foreword by conservationist and TV personality Bindi Irwin, the book features the work of authors, artists, and editors aged 30 and under. Each story is told in the whimsical fairy tale style that has made the series a success and is paired with a bold, full-page portrait. More than 80 young female or nonbinary artists from all over the world contributed original artwork to the book.
In an interview with Puisand Lai, Paralympic and “Rebel Girl,” along with Jes Wolf, Rebel Girls CEO, we uncover the continued positive power of telling the stories of young people making a difference all around the world.
KEELY: What has your Paralympic journey been like?
PUISAND: The truth is, I never grew up thinking, “I want to be a Paralympian one day”. Sport was just something that my parents signed me up for to be more active, but then it turned into something I really enjoyed, and became something I had a lot of potential for. Then I worked towards making Team Ontario, then Team Canada. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of dedication, willpower and a lot of ups and downs, but every practice I just tried my best and tried to pick up as much as I can. Representing Canada at the Paralympics was surreal because it was a culmination of all the work I’ve put in for the last four years and more, and it was amazing to see it all come together for that moment.
KEELY: What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
PUISAND: Just put yourself out there and stop worrying about what other people think. I think I used to be, and still am, afraid to take the leap to try new things because I was worried of sticking out, feeling out of place, etc. The first step is always the hardest, but going through with it makes it that much better.
KEELY: Why is it important for young Disabled people to see themselves represented in media, books and entertainment?
PUISAND: I think it’s important because growing up, I was so self-conscious of being different. It wasn’t until I started playing wheelchair basketball and tennis that I saw more people with disabilities living their life and thriving, instead of just seeing people at a hospital environment. So, being able to see people like you succeeding in other environments not only gives confidence in yourself, but also for others to see more in people than just their disabilities.
KEELY: Body autonomy is under attack, climate change is vast and human rights are at constant risk from legislators… With that said, how are you seeing young women and girls take action? And why is it so important that Rebel Girls are not only highlighting these stories but turning them into bedtime stories to inspire others to take action?
JES: There are a lot of things to fix in the world right now! Good thing there are so many incredible women and girls that are moving and shaking and mobilizing and inspiring. They are the changemakers that we need; their actions and pursuits are impacting their communities and the world. It’s our job at Rebel Girls to celebrate what they have done, cheer them on, and amplify their stories so that the next generation of girls can carry the torch.
We’re seeing girls around the world use their brains, their talents, their passion, their creativity to impact change. Girls like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate who are fighting to protect the earth from climate change. Girls like Bindi Irwin and Earyn McGee who are devoting their lives to helping animals. Girls like Jazz Jennings and AJ Clementine who are advocating for human rights, awareness, and compassion. Girls like Bonnie Chiu who created an organization to provide more income to women in developing countries, and Olga Kravchenko who is using new technology to make learning about history and art visual, captivating, and accessible. These young women prove that there are so many ways to be a changemaker.
Storytelling is the oldest and most surefire way to communicate with children – and teach them valuable lessons and knowledge. That’s why at Rebel Girls we tell stories. We tell the stories of women and girls who are unapologetically themselves. Girls who have overcome obstacles, have challenged the status-quo, have made their mark on the world, and have brought people together. Girls who are innovators and leaders, creators, and champions. We tell their stories as bedtime stories so that more people know of their contributions, and so that more girls can find role models to relate to, and who inspire them. If we do our job well, we will have told so many diverse stories that all girls can find at least one, if not dozens, of role models. And through this they can both be inspired, and feel more confident that they too, can be changemakers.
KEELY: This is the fifth volume of the book, what are you most excited about?
JES: While each book is a standalone, this book in particular is special as it focuses solely on contemporary women and girls – all under the age of 30, many under the age of 21 – who are changing the world today. It is meant to provide girls with an incredible slate of the most relatable role models, ever.
Further, the creators of this book are all between the ages of 11-30. We worked with 96 women and girls from more than 40 countries to write, edit, and illustrate the artwork for this book – it is meant to be by girls and for girls (and about inspirational girls!).
We also created some incredible companion audio stories to compliment this book – select story pages include QR codes that unlock a 10-20 minute audio story about the woman on the Rebel Girls App. These 10 – 20 minute audio stories include original sound and music and are in the format of our award winning podcast series.
I’m most excited about sharing these stories with the world – and with the response we’ve seen so far from girls – and the global community of book subjects and readers that we are bringing together.
We were able to bring four of the book subjects together in London – to share their stories with girls there and celebrate Rebel Girls Fest, our International Day of the Girl event. The energy in the room was electric. These book subjects were beyond excited to meet each other – to celebrate each other’s accomplishments – and to celebrate how diverse each of their backgrounds and talents were, and how they used those backgrounds and talents to make their own marks on the world.
And the girls who came to celebrate Girl Fest were inspired, curious, and hungry. They loved meeting the women in real life. They asked questions, shared their own dreams and interests, and they were able to see the impact and the recognition the book subjects received by following their passions, working hard, and being creative. And they got to experience it together. All who came felt more bonded and more connected with everyone else in the room.
As a brand that is what we live for – building that community – and helping to pass the torch from one generation to the next. From a storytelling perspective our earlier books focused on ‘stories of the past’ – giving credence to women who have laid the foundation for so much of what we enjoy today. We are now focusing on the ‘stories of today’ – the next generation of girls who have taken the torch and are moving us forward as a society. In the future, you will see Rebel Girls help to tell the ‘stories of tomorrow’ – for Generation Alpha girls – and we encouraged those in the room (and readers of our book everywhere) to write their own stories (quite literally in the back of the book, and figuratively) and to share them with us so we can celebrate their dreams and pursuits.
KEELY: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JES: I love the saying: “Mountains are climbed one step at a time.” This saying has real meaning for me both literally and figuratively.
In the literal sense – I love to climb mountains. I get great satisfaction from reaching a summit and watching the sunrise. I cherish the feeling of looking down from the top at the path I just traveled, and knowing that my legs and my body took me to a new height. Climbing mountains is difficult and strenuous. The higher up you go, the more it hurts. And when it’s really tough – those peaks where the journey was on ice, freezing cold, battered by the wind and by sleet, exhausted and wanting for oxygen, I’ve had to tell myself to take one step, and then another. To just keep going.
I think this is a beautiful metaphor for life, and for many of our individual and collective pursuits. When I think about the problems in the world (like climate change or gender and racial inequalities), those problems can seem great and daunting. And for all the girls (and humans) who want to be a changemaker and want to know how to start, the trick is to just start and then to keep going one step at a time. If we focus on one step, one action, and then another, little by little, we will climb the mountain, we will make change.