During the 2016 presidential election a few years later, Manickam and her friend Jen Bruno noticed that many young girls and their own children were thrilled at the prospect of a woman as president.
The interest inspired Manickam and Bruno to create a book out of the poem Manickam had written for her daughter, so that young girls knew it was possible to have a career in a number of professions that are typically male-dominated.
The 38-page book, “Rad Girl Revolution,” features 30 professions, including a scientist, judge, artist, astronaut, chef, engineer, paleontologist, news anchor and doctor. “Rad” stands for Rise Above Doubt and Reach Any Dream.
Although books such as “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” “She Persisted,” and “Little Leaders” inspired them, Manickam and Bruno wanted to create a book where every little girl could see themselves represented in the pages.
Instead of using cartoons or another form of art, the book will feature actual images of local children donning the outfits that represent the careers.
“We both have 5-year-olds and also started working with local kids of friends of ours, and then we got recommendations from other moms, and we’re now up to 50 girls,” Manickam said. “We made it a point to make sure we had diverse models with all different ethnicities and abilities.”
Because the girls weren’t models, they were excited about the photoshoot process, Bruno added.
“It’s been an extra rewarding for us to watch that excitement,” she said.
In one photoshoot, a young girl will be photographed as an author, the same profession as her grandmother. The girl will be photographed at Kew & Willow Books in Kew Gardens.
In a lot of the cases, the girls have been photographed in careers that their family members work in so the kids have some knowledge of that career beforehand. For instance, some girls followed in the footsteps of their fathers, with one posing as a FDNY firefighter while the other posed as a NYPD police officer.
In some cases, like an astronaut, the girl has no affiliation with the job but grew excited about the field by the end of the photoshoot. Since the photoshoot wrapped at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Long Island, she’s been back three times.
“Sharita and Jen have done an amazing job at getting an important message out,” said Paul Hellman, whose daughter Maddy posed as a presidential cabinet member. “My Rad Girl can do anything she wants to do.
“My wife has a children’s book from her childhood, called ‘Girls Can Be Anything,’ which we read to my daughter,” he added. “It’s a shame that the message still needs to be taught in 2018. But I am delighted that there will be a modern version that captures what girls can aspire to now.”
Annette Martin’s daughter, Mila, posed as a news anchor.
“As a working mom, I try to be a role model and want my daughter to know it’s okay for woman to be a mother with a thriving career, or a stay at home mom as long as it’s what she wants,” Martin said. “Specifically with this book, I love that their showing professions dominated by men, because as I young girl I never thought of considering a lot of these roles.”
Martin works for a cosmetic company that is dominated by professional women. In her opinion, it’s the hardest group of working people she’s ever seen, noting that her general manager came back to work after less than six weeks of maternity leave. With positions in accounting, IT, and marketing, it’s important for Martin to have her daughter know men and women can do anything they want.
“It’s also important that my younger son knows woman are equal to men, and grows up in a world that you don’t even need to explain that,” Martin said.
The photo-illustrations were taken by Bruno while Manickam wrote the rhymes.
According to a number of studies, gender stereotypes are set in children as early as age six, so Manickam and Bruno felt it was crucial to expose a younger audience to empowering books with simple rhymes and photographs reflecting themselves.
The goal is to reach children during the critical developmental ages between three and seven years old. That way the book can empower young girls and encourage gender equal mindsets in young boys.
Manickam and Bruno set up a Kickstarter fundraising goal of $15,000 to help create a book. Within days, their goal was already surpassed by thousands of dollars.
Gyan Moorthy, a backer of the project, said her mother was her hero growing up because of similar qualities expressed in the book.
“A physician, professor, researcher and tireless advocate for victims of domestic violence, foster children and those with limited access to healthcare, she's dedicated her life to improving the lives of others,” Moorthy said. “She made sure I knew from an early age that women were just as smart and strong as men.
“I want girls everywhere to know that they can overcome the extra hurdles society puts in their way to accomplish whatever it is they set their minds to,” Moorthy added.
“We’re really excited, we’ve gotten so much support from the Forest Hills community, and Queens in general, which really helped us to reach our goal so quickly,” Bruno said.
The Kickstarter will remain up until May 8th. The project will then move to Indiegogo, where they will continue to take pre-orders for the book.
If they reach a new goal of $20,000, they plan to donate 100 copies of the book to the Pajama Project, a nonprofit that provides new pajamas and new books to children in need.
“It will help the underprivileged youth to have that safe, nice goodnight feeling,” Manickam said.
Manickam and Bruno have also recruited other female artists to provide special pieces as rewards for some of the backers on Kickstarter. Annie Moor, the Brooklyn-based illustrator behind Annie Draws Stuff, created quirky a sticker sheet. Jane Marsilio created an exclusive coloring book that reflected the “Rad Girl Revolution.”
“We wanted to be able to use images from within the book and have the coloring pages look really realistic still while being easy and fun for young kids to draw in and we loved what Jane was able to do,” Bruno said.
The book is expected to be out by November.
To learn more, visit www.RadGirlRevolution.com.