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Actress Natalie Portman’s 'gender-safe' children’s book reimagines classic tales

The Oscar winner’s first book, ‘Natalie Portman’s Fables’, will be out next month

epa06687101 (FILE) - US actress Natalie Portman arrives for the premiere of 'Planetarium' at the 73rd annual Venice International Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, 08 September 2016 (reissued 23 April 2018). According to reports, Natalie Portman on 23 April 2018 has rejected her Genesis Prize in protest against the policies of Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu. EPA/CLAUDIO ONORATI *** Local Caption *** 53007843
epa06687101 (FILE) - US actress Natalie Portman arrives for the premiere of 'Planetarium' at the 73rd annual Venice International Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, 08 September 2016 (reissued 23 April 2018). According to reports, Natalie Portman on 23 April 2018 has rejected her Genesis Prize in protest against the policies of Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu. EPA/CLAUDIO ONORATI *** Local Caption *** 53007843

Following in the footsteps of Madonna, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Julianne Moore, Black Swan actress Natalie Portman is the latest star to enter the lucrative children’s book market.

The 39-year-old took to Instagram to give a sneak peek of her debut, Natalie Portman's Fables, which will be available on Tuesday, October 20, in which she promises “stories that give kids the morals that get passed down from generation to generation”.

“Can’t wait to share my children’s book with you all, Natalie Portman’s Fables – retellings of The Tortoise and the Hare, The Three Little Pigs, and Country Mouse and City Mouse,” she wrote. “I love these classic stories and wanted to update them to be more reflective of the world in which we live.”

‘Books for young girls are too weighty’

The actress, who has been married to French dancer and choreographer, Benjamin Millepied since 2012, and has two children, son Aleph, nine, and daughter Amalia, three, also penned a personal letter to accompany her upcoming launch, in which she lamented the use of ‘he’ throughout children’s books, and wondered why girls were bombarded with adult messages, while boys were not.

“When my daughter was born, I was introduced to a whole new genre of literature, the feminist baby book,” she wrote. “Every gift we received seemed to be about fierce girls, women who changed history and, yes, literal feminist babies… And no one gave me those books for my son to read five years earlier. It felt wrong that boys get to read normal, fun stories about caterpillars and rainy days, and numbers that talk, and girls get loaded up with the socially conscious seriousness already.”

'Gender-safe' balance

The actress also pointed out that many children’s books use the generic ‘he’ to describe characters, and admits she found herself reverting to the pronoun when describing the world around her to her daughter.

Revealing that she had been “struck by the fact that nearly all the characters” in the books she reads her kids were male, the actress admitted, “I started noticing when I point out animals in real life, I tended to use the pronoun he. ‘See the duck? What does he say?’ ‘Oh, look at the doggie, what’s his name?’”

“These classic tales have a great message,” she says of her book. “The stories give kids the morals that get passed down from generation to generation, but are 'gender-safe' so we’re not telling any of our children that boys’ inner lives are not more valuable to imagine than those of girls.”

Boy's inner lives are not more valuable to imagine than those of girls

Natalie Portman

Five more celebrities who have written children’s books

1. Julianne Moore

The Oscar winning Hunger Games star has written five children’s books, with four of them based on her red-headed character, Freckleface Strawberry.

2. Ricky Martin

The She Bangs singer was inspired by his twin sons, Matteo and Valentino, to write Santiago the Dreamer in Land Among the Stars, about a young boy who is upset when he doesn't get the lead in a school play.

3. Kelly Clarkson

The singer and talk-show host named her children’s books after her daughter, with River Rose and the Magical Lullaby, and River Rose and the Magical Christmas.

4. Jimmy Fallon

The chat show host has written three children’s books, Your Baby's First Word Will Be Dada, and Everything is Mama, as well as Snowball Fight! about a young boy’s fun day in the snow.

5. Jamie Lee Curtis

The actress has proved as prolific in literary circles as she is in Hollywood, writing 13 children’s books, including Me, Myselfie & I: A Cautionary Tale, which came out earlier this year.

Updated: September 23, 2020 01:38 PM

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