Rachael MacFarlane is best known as a voiceover actress. She currently voices Hayley on “American Dad,” created by her brother, animator Seth MacFarlane, who is also the creator of “Family Guy.” In fact, her partnership with her brother on “Family Guy” launched her voiceover career.
MacFarlane’s latest project is a different kind of family collaboration. She teamed up with her husband, animator Spencer Laudiero, to write a picture book called “Eleanor Wyatt, Princess and Pirate.” It tells the story of a girl who loves to play in all sorts of creative ways. The book uses bouncy rhymes and vibrant illustrations to subtly subvert gender stereotypes and promote inclusivity. The couple’s daughters are 9 and 3.
What inspired you to write “Eleanor Wyatt, Princess and Pirate?”
My older daughter has always been pretty fluid in terms of her feelings on her own gender. When she was a little, she’d say, “I’m a boy, show call me a boy.” We’ve always, just let her be her, and as she’s gotten older, she seems to be more identifying as female, but we’ve never put limitations or restrictions on it. When she was in preschool and it became clear that she preferred play that the kids thought of as being more masculine, she did have some friends push back a little bit, not understanding why she didn’t want to be the princess; she wanted to be the prince. She needed this book, and unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out there that tack led this specific topic.
How do you talk about gender and self-identity with her?
We have always told her, “You are you, whatever that means.” My husband says, “You are you. Be you.” It’s sort of outside of gender. When we talk about her future, ever since she could talk, we’ve always said, “When you grow up, you’ll have a husband or a wife.” We’ve always made it clear that she will dictate her path, and we will be supportive of her. I think in doing that, she felt a freedom to express herself and her individuality. I hate to think about where she would be if that had if we hadn’t let her be her.
Why do you think gender-neutral play is so important?
Especially when kids are little and they’re developing, play is how they learn. My littlest one is at a play-based preschool, and they’re constantly sending home things that say, “This is what we did today. It might seem like your children are just playing, but they’re not. They’re learning so much from this play.” There is no logical reason that we should restrict our children’s play. It should just be as limitless as their imagination.
What was it like working with your husband on the book?
We’ve been together for a long time – going on 18 years – and this was the first time that we collaborated in this way. I always felt like I had a book in me, and when I finished it, I thought, “Well, there’s no one more perfect to illustrate it than Spence, because he’s such a great artist and he’s so close to the subject matter.” He brought so much inclusivity and diversity to it as the illustrator. There are a lot of different skin tones, there are men in dresses, and I love the picture of the knight in a wheelchair.
Do you plan to team up on more books in the future?
We have our second book, “Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight,” coming out on May 7. When you’re a child and you pick up a book, if you can relate to the main character, it’s an easier entry point for you. Even though “Eleanor Wyatt, Princess and Pirate” is genderless, our main character is a girl. With the next one, it takes these themes and goes a step further, with a little boy who is sensitive. It tackles the double standard of letting our girls be emotional but expecting our boys to be tough.
What do you hope kids and parents take away from Eleanor’s story?
I know it’s a children’s book, but we’re trying to start a dialogue at a young age that could shape children who are exposed to it into more empathic adults who are less likely to put labels on people and judge them. The whole motivation behind the book is to strip away the labels that we have on toys and on play, and just make it what it is, which is an exploration of what you like and what you don’t like. It’s just play. There isn’t anything more to it than that.
For more information about “Eleanor Wyatt, Princess and Pirate” and to download an activity kit, visit princessandpiratebook.com.