This Creative Director Made a Customizable Children’s Book to Empower Young Girls

'Secret Code' shows girls a future of possibilities

Wandering through a bookstore last September in search of a picture book for a young girl's birthday, Mara Binudin-Lecocq was struck by the fact that there were really no books on the shelf about young girls. It was either books about boys or books about animals, and in the few cases where the story was about a girl she was a princess or frolicking through the woods. The options for young girls of color, unfortunately, were nonexistent.

Binudin-Lecocq, a freelance creative director, had an idea. She would create her own children's book, Secret Code, designed to empower young girls by letting each one customize the book to feature a character that looks a bit more like them. It would also portray the little girl as the hero of the story, not just a princess in need of saving. This book, she thought, might also help solve the lack of diversity in the workplace for future generations.

"Being a female creative director in digital, it can feel like [we only make up] three percent of the industry," Binudin-Lecocq said. 

"I treated this as an advertising campaign. I had a strategy, an insight, an idea and an execution. I have a launch video and a product and at the end there's even a call to action," she said. (The launch video was produced by Mile Inn with music by Apollo Studios.)

At the end of each book, Binudin-Lecocq dropped in a link that leads the reader to a website where she, or he, can learn how to code. The inspiration for the coding portion of the project came from a previous campaign Binudin-Lecocq worked on when she was at AKQA.

"I worked on a campaign for Verizon called 'Inspire Her Mind,' which raised awareness around the lack of women in STEM," Binudin-Lecocq said. "The things is, there's a lot of talk about bringing diversity into technology and leadership, but the reality is you don't become an empowered tech leader when you're 30. It has to start when you're young."

When kids are between the ages of 5 and 7, that's when they begin to associate jobs with genders, so Binudin-Lecocq wanted to reach that age group with a book that can have a female hero that is African American, Asian, Latin American or Caucasian. At the moment the book only features a traditional married couple as parents, but the team plans to create mixed race, same-sex and single parent options in the near future.

The hero of the story, which can be named by the reader, wears a pink tutu and a black leather jacket to demonstrate that girls can be "cool and feminine, but also really badass," Binudin-Lecocq said. "It's good is to expose girls to different things so they aren't boxed into a certain stereotype." 

Binudin-Lecocq worked on the book with writer Nathan Archambault, illustrator Jessika Von Innerebner, female developer Iris Salvador and technology partner Rodolfo Dengo. The project was backed by the Girlboss Foundation.

The book is available online for $36 each.