Natalie Portman is not just an A-list actress, she’s an outspoken advocate for human and animal rights, the Democratic party, and most recently, a children’s book author.
The Academy Award winner has authored Natalie Portman’s Fables, giving well-known children’s stories a gender equality do-over.
Illustrated by Janna Mattia, the new book features modern upgrades to the classic stories The Tortoise and the Hare, The Three Little Pigs, and Country Mouse and City Mouse.
The mother of two said the idea sparked when reading stories to her son and daughter. The stories they loved showed a discrepancy: the “boy” stories didn’t feature a feminist message while the stories for girls often did.
“I thought, ‘Why aren’t the boys getting exposed to this? It should be as much for them as for the girls,'” Portman told Canadian culture magazine q. “Then it started becoming clear to me that these kind of ‘normal’ books that I thought were just general population books had largely male characters. And I started changing the genders in those classic books so it would feel a little bit more like the real world.”
Portman also reviewed favorite stories of her youth and noticed a male-heavy narrative was pervasive there, too. She wanted to change that and help boys and girls to both empathize with how girls feel.
“What happens to both boys and girls, when they are mainly practicing getting into the male heart and mind, they’re not thinking about how females think and feel,” Portman said.
“If boys go through the world thinking how a girl might feel — ‘How might she react if I do this? How might she feel if I say this?’ — they’re practicing that train of thought, which girls are always socialized to do.”
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Portman says thinking about how our actions may impact others from a young age helps to develop empathy across a lifetime.
And empathy is important to Portman, not just when it comes to other humans, but all earthlings. In a 2018 video for animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) she paid tribute to the Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer for using his platform to defend the rights of animals.
She also brought an eco twist to her book, too. In The Three Little Pigs the house of straw is made with upcycled plastic straws to keep the plastic out of the ocean.
Paying Kindness Forward
Portman’s children, aged 9 and 3, test-drove the stories as she wrote them. She then adapted the stories based on their responses.
Portman is #momgoals for many reasons. Despite her A-list status, she does her best to keep her kids away from the spotlight. She keeps them on a routine as much as possible and balances her career with ample time at home.
During lockdown, she’s turned her Instagram feed into a vegan cooking show, featuring seasonal and traditional Jewish holiday dishes as well as lunches for her children.
The apple, or first-female Thor, as the case may be, doesn’t fall far from the tree, it turns out.
“The greatest luck of my life was having the mom I have,” Portman said. “She is just so incredibly loving, and so creative, and so attentive. She really showed me by example how to care for someone, how to be good to someone.
“So I got to be exposed to all of this art and books, because she was always reading to me. She made me completely fall in love with books, which has been such an enriching and beautiful part of my life.”
The takeaway for Portman is leaving her children with an important message.
“If my kid had to think, ‘What does my mom want me to know and value in this world?’ here is a document of it in an entertaining form,” she said.
“That paying attention, taking things slowly and being attentive is an expression of love, and an expression of the appreciation of life. And then for The Three Little Pigs, that our environment must be attended to and focused on and thought through carefully. And then for Country Mouse and City Mouse, that true friendship is someone who cares about you deeply, not about any superficial things.”
Natalie Portman’s Fables is available now on Amazon.
Images: Via Natalie Portman’s Instagram.
Jill Ettinger is a writer, editor, and business development consultant focused on vegan and sustainable industries. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and their two rescue cats.