Actress and activist Natalie Portman is now a children’s book author. Natalie Portman’s Fables retells three of the classic tales. The book immediately climbed the New York Times bestseller list and became a hit. She chose three stories to retell, all of them featuring large casts of animal characters. In her new takes on The Tortoise and the Hare, The Three Little Pigs, and Country Mouse and City Mouse, Portman kept the classic morals for the stories but added in modern lessons. For example, Natalie Portman’s stories encourage kids to eat a healthy diet. She also changed the pronouns for many of the animal characters in the stories. The author’s aim was to split the pronouns fairly evenly between her and him, with several theys added in as well.
Her inspiration to attempt gender equality in children’s literature may actually be surprising. Many will hear that Natalie Portman rewrote classics to make them more inclusive and become upset about the feminist agenda. However, Portman was inspired to retell these fables because she disliked the feminist baby books she was gifted by her friends. On the publisher’s page for Natalie Portman’s Fables, the author has included a letter addressing her decision to rewrite these stories. In it, she explains that the feminist baby books were, frankly, a touch angry. That the stories inside addressed obstacles that women face throughout their lives. However, Portman took issue with telling a small child that throughout her life, she’s going to have struggles she doesn’t know about yet. Understandably, this isn’t the most upbeat narrative to share with a three-year-old. It’s also not one they seem likely to fully understand.
The actress, and now children’s book author, is a parent to two small children. She expressed concerns about what was age-appropriate. Ultimately, Natalie Portman felt that both of her children needed to see that women live diverse lives with a multitude of opportunities. In the letter and interviews, she’s talked about sharing these stories with her kids. At publication, Portman shared her excitement on Instagram.
While Natalie Portman felt that describing obstacles for women may be too harsh at such a young age, she did say that she wants both her children to learn lessons about empathy. She said, “It’s exposing them to stories that have protagonists that are all genders, backgrounds, and ability levels.”
As for her own work, she focused on doing this by adjusting enough of the pronouns about the animal characters in the stories to make things more evenly divided. This move was considered controversial by some who fear that it will mean rewriting older children’s books to add more diverse characters. This new retelling comes at a time when six Dr. Seuss books were recently removed from the shelves.
As for the reviews from people who’ve read it, this hasn’t been too big of a focus. Perhaps because the characters are animals as opposed to romantic fairy tales like Cinderella. Instead, reviewers have said that the illustrations by Janna Mattia are lovely. The tales were similar to what they remember, though some of the modern lessons were a bit heavy-handed. The rhymes sometimes sound off. But overall, the stories were enjoyable. Most people rated the book highly. There was an added touch with the audiobook for adults who are fans of Natalie Portman, as she narrated the audiobook herself.
Are there more children’s books in the actress’s future? Probably not anytime soon. Right now, Natalie Portman is in Australia. She is busy filming Thor: Love and Thunder with director Taika Waititi. We can expect to see her again in theaters on February 11, 2022.