Natalie Portman Reimagines Classic Storybook Fables With Girls in the Starring Roles

The actor and mom of two reimagines familiar tales, like “The Tortoise and the Hare,” with more female characters in the stories.

Natalie Portman

When Oscar winner Natalie Portman started reading to her daughter, Amalia, now 3, she realized that many of her favorite fables, like "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "Country Mouse and City Mouse," feature only male characters. "After changing pronouns long enough, I decided I just needed to write my own versions," says Portman, who made the tortoise and the city mouse in her book female. A year in the works, the picture book Natalie Portman's Fables is out on October 20. "I read the kids every draft," she says. The actor, who has appeared in Thor, Vox Lux, and Jackie, shared the vision for her new book with Parents and talked about what else is on her kids' shelves.

Fables Book by Natalie Portman
Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends

How did you decide which classic tales to retell?

"I wanted to use stories that had animal characters, since empathizing with animals was so important to me as a kid. I chose 'The Three Little Pigs,' my favorite fairy tale of all time, plus 'The Tortoise and the Hare' and 'Country Mouse and City Mouse,' because they all have relevant and necessary messages, like hard work pays off."

How does bedtime reading go down?

"Amalia gets around five books read to her before bed but often negotiates for more. She's recently loved Keith Graves's older title, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance. My 9-year-old son, Aleph, always bargains for more reading time. He would stay up all night if he could. A Newbery winner from two decades ago, Holes, by Louis Sachar, is a current favorite. Over the years, both kids loved the Richard Scarry books, especially Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Lowly Worm Storybook, and Great Big Schoolhouse. They're so full of detail, characters, and little hidden jokes that they never get old. Mo Willems's Elephant and Piggie books are always very fun and have great messages."

What are your family's favorite books that promote inclusion?

"We're fans of the picture books I Am Enough, by Grace Byers; Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong'o; All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold; and Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO, by Tamara Pizzoli."

Were you a big reader as a kid?

"Books have always loomed large in my life, especially as an only child who moved around. I found friends in books. I adored Arnold Lobel's Mouse Tales, and I have my childhood copy that my kids enjoy now. I thought the stories were so funny: the man whose pants fall down and kids give him gum to keep them up, or the mouse who takes a long bath as the whole town fills with water. I also loved the Baby-Sitters Club books when I was 9 or 10. They gave me a great world of girls working together and supporting each other."

What children's book character would you most like to play?

"Eloise. She has such a unique and mischievous voice."

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's November 2020 issue as "Natalie Portman Flips the Switch." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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