Life Magazine: Rhyme for a reason with Natalie Portman
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Life Magazine: Rhyme for a reason with Natalie Portman

Jewish Oscar winner has taken her place on the shelves of showbiz scribes with her modern retelling in poetry of three classic fables

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Pity the authors who have dedicated their lives to writing childrens’ books, as they have been usurped by A-listers with a taste for the genre.

Inspired by the arrival of a grandchild (Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards) or the urge to write a letter to one’s daughters (Barak Obama), publishers’ demands  for celeb-penned children’s stories has never been greater. For some, it’s a one trick tale; for others, including Jamie Lee Curtis who has delivered 13, it’s a production line.

And now Oscar winner Natalie Portman has taken her place on the shelves of showbiz scribes with her modern retelling in poetry of three classic fables.

When mommy pig saw that her kids were all grown

She told them: ‘It’s time to move out on your own.’

So Norm and Melinda and Georgie said byes

And left their dear Mamas to build their own sties.

That The Black Swan star has ventured into literature – albeit tot fiction – is no surprise as she is a Harvard graduate who performed Chekhov between semesters and missed the premiere of her first Star Wars film because it clashed with exams. 

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With such devotion to academia, one might have expected the actress, born Natalie Hershlag, to reimagine Tolstoy’s War and Peace rather than The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare and Country Mouse and City Mouse.

But Natalie, 35, an activist and vocal supporter of the #MeToo campaign, has brought her political head to her reimagining of the fables and regendered them to reflect contemporary society. 

“I found myself changing the pronouns in many of the books I read to my children,” says the mother of Aleph, nine, and Amalia, four, who is also producing a new Apple TV series in which she plays Maddie Schwartz, a Jewish housewife turned murder investigator. 

Natalie Portman’s Fables is published by Feiwel and Friends

“So many had overwhelmingly male characters, which is disproportionate to reality. And so I started changing the pronouns and then realised, there should be something available to read to them without giving them a skewed perspective of the world.”

Receiving books as gifts for her children also shaped her view. “When my son was born, he was given books that didn’t feel particularly gendered except for a few about cars and trucks. With my daughter, we started getting feminist baby books, which not only felt premature, but don’t boys need this more than the girls? They should be seeing women as protagonists in their own lives and not just as heroic or accomplished characters. They can be the pig or the wolf.” 

Natalie as Lady Thor

Even the non-binary have a home in this book, which Natalie hopes will be a first step towards children not having expectations based on gender. 

Born in Jerusalem but raised on New York’s Long Island, Natalie is yet another Israeli to have superhero status, but in the Marvel Universe where she appears as Dr Jane Foster/Lady Thor, who will return in 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder. Clad in armour and wielding Thor’s hammer, the attire is perfect for an author challenging gender stereotypes. Perhaps Natalie could borrow it for book signings.

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