When I walked into the library last week and noticed a new Cinderella book on the display shelf I knew exactly what I had to do. No, I did not, scream and run away. Nor did I cover my kids’ eyes and stir them in another direction. I skipped towards the display shelf and merrily grabbed the book. I know, I know, I’ve been warned all along of the dangerous Cinderella. Believe me, I did my homework. I read Reviving Ophelia, In a Different Voice and Cinderella Ate My Daughter all before my daughter was even a year old. I agreed with some of the points, but mostly not. I believe there is an important place for Cinderella stories in a well balanced childhood!
Our lives are shaped profoundly by many different things. The wide range of conditions blamed on fairy tales is staggering, but I strongly believe that eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, impaired academic achievement are the result of a total environment. A couple of Cinderella books will not cause it, especially if they are read by a caring adult, guiding the discussion and helping children develop critical thinking skills. Discussion is important. Do not just tell kids what to think. They should come to their own conclusions, in their own time and on their own terms.
It’s easy to get snarky about princesses. On the surface they don’t do anything, just bide their time looking pretty and waiting to be rescued. But one powerful point often overlooked is the fairytale’s ability to help children deal with life. Kids’ life is not exactly stress free. They go through inner conflicts and confusing stages of development; and what’s more, they don’t have adult maturity and language skills to put it into words and deal with it head on. The classical fairy tales were passed down to us from generation to generation for a number of important reasons. They contain implicit and explicit meanings, instructions for survival, if you please. I also like what Gerald Huther said, “Fairy tales are an instrument for passing down important messages about our own management of life and the development of relationships.”
Disney’s Cinderella might be about a pretty dress and the ball, but the original fairy tale is about family and parental love, sibling rivalry and child abandonment. A glimpse into a happy ending is important too. I read once in an academic article soon after the death of my own father that it is normal and common for children to worry from time to time about the death of their parents. “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” (G. K. Chesterton)
So who needs another Cinderella book? We all do. So parents can just relax and enjoy the old tales because in the words of Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” And don’t forget to read the modern twists on classical tales too because these new Cinderella books are memorable in a whole new way. Go ahead and create a simple comparison chart: for example, European Cinderella on one side and Chinese Cinderella on the other. You can compare: number of siblings, glass shoe versus golden shoe, royal ball versus festival of spring, fairy godmother versus fish bones, etc. Print ours here.
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Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt
If the main gripe people have with Cinderella is that she waits for someone to rescue her, then this sci-fi version of brainy Cinderella should definitely be well received. Interstellar Cinderella is not only a take-charge kind of gal, she knows how to keep her shoes on (no lost slippers for this Cinderella). By day she fixes her wicked step-mother’s robot dishwashers and zoombrooms without a murmur (what choice does she have after all), but by night she studies rocket ship repair and dreams of fixing fancy rockets. At the gravity-free ball she gets her chance to fix the prince’s spaceship, but as she leaves the ball in a rush she leaves her socket wrench behind. The prince sets out looking for the girl who can use that wrench to fix a ship. He didn’t get a glimpse of her face because they were wearing space suits. When he finally makes it to Cinderella’s doorstep, Cinderella is nowhere to be found because the evil step-mother left her in the attic tied up with space ropes. When Cinderella makes her escape it’s almost too late, but she “strapped the rusty jet pack on and blasted through the air.”
The illustrations are big, bold and futuristic. Lots of aliens, robots and space crafts to delight Star Wars fans. At first, the magenta haired Cinderella was a bit of a shock, but by the end of the story I couldn’t imagine her any other way. How else can you portray a gal who rocks a space suit and has a robot for a friend?
I love this brilliant twist on classic tale about a girl that can do things for herself. I love that this Cinderella is smart and brave. She knows what she wants and instead of wasting time whining about what she doesn’t have, she works toward her dream. I love that she gets to devise her own transportation to get to the party with her fairy god robot providing her only with tools. And what tools they are! The front and back flaps allow readers a glimpse into Cinderella’s tool box. Here you will see the antimatter hammer, robot clamp, micropliers, and plasma pump, gyro torch, cosmicaliper, and googol gauge. This Cinderella is definitely the most creative Cinderella we met so far. But that is not all. This Cinderella knows her boundaries and how to say “no” (great skill in my opinion). When, at the end of the book, the prince asks Cinderella to marry him, posed and confident Cinderella replies, “I’m far too young for marriage, but I’ll be your chief mechanic.” So even though there are no wedding bells at the end of this story, it’s nevertheless a very happy ending with joyful Cinderella exclaiming, “My stars! Dreams do come true!”
Yen-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China, retold by Ai-Ling Louie
The story of Chinese Cinderella is very similar to the traditional story that you most likely grew up with, but it is at least 1,000 years older than the European version. In this story, Cinderella is an orphan living with her step-mother and her daughter, who starve her and give her the hardest chores.Cinderella’s only friend is a fish that lives in a pond, but once the wicked step-mother learns about it she kills the fish out of spite. However, the spirit of the fish lives on in its bones and keeps guiding Cinderella and helps her to get to the fateful festival. Because of the tiny golden shoe left during her escape, the prince finds her and the story ends with the wedding. I like that the girl’s good fortune is the result of her kindness to the fish and not merely a gift from a fairy godmother.
The amazing part of the story is its pastels and watercolor illustrations. You will understand how amazing they are just by looking at the cover, you realize that the fish’s body is the girl’s dress. I like how the faces lack distinction and appear as if out of the mist. The presence of the fish on each page can be a game. The characters are actually drawn inside the shape of the fish and it might not be apparent right away. Colors are often different shades of the same color whirled together to a stunning effect (I really like the red page). Another unique feature of the illustrations are that each page is divided into rectangular screens, like Japanese screens you might have seen in a museum. And the characters seem to be flowing from one screen to another creating an amazing sense of motion. On one page, Cinderella is flowing away from step-mother and step-sister who are inside a fish, leaving her shoe in their rectangle, while fish’s spirit presence is indicated by a tail flowing out of the main section in another direction.
Cinderella, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown
This 1955 Caldecott Medal winner is a French version of Cinderella, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown. In this version, Cinderella, as usual, is abused by her wicked step-mother and step-sisters, but her father is alive, though does nothing to make her life easier. With the help of her fairy godmother Cinderella makes it to the ball, charms the prince, and loses her glass slipper. When the gentleman who was sent to try on the slipper puts it on Cinderella’s foot, the fairy godmother appears and changes her rags to a fancy gown. Cinderella is taken to the prince and they get married. The question begging to be addressed: if the fairy godmother is so powerful why didn’t she do anything to alleviate the pain and suffering the girl went through on a daily basis? One of my kids ideas: she was testing whether Cinderella will stay good despite the difficulties sent her way. Another question that can be discussed: is father’s silence as wicked as his wife’s cruelty?
I grew up with the Brothers Grimm version of the story and much prefer that the father is dead and that the spirit of dead mother guides Cinderella. Yet, I still recommend this story for two reasons. First, this is a good way to show kids how one story can be viewed/ interpreted / remembered differently by people from different regions/ times. And second, read it for the chance to study the unique illustrations. It never stops amazing me how a piece of paper can come to life with a few strokes of a brush or pen. It’s especially amazing in this case because the illustrations are soft and delicate, and the dream like quality is reinforced by non-existent lines, especially in the beginning of the story. The first time we see Cinderella, there are more lines missing than present. As the story progresses, she is more solid. The pictures are drawn in pen and ink, and then painted with opaque watercolor paints. I was surprised to discover that Marcia Brown used only four colors: rose pink, cobalt blue, pale ochre (a pale brownish yellow color), and charcoal, yet the illustrations portray and bring about emotions from the reader. The drawings might be minimalist and the colors might be plain, but there is no mistaking pain, joy, yearning, annoyance…. in the features of the characters. There are many notable things to talk about. For example, the angular features of the sisters and more rounded face of Cinderella and her godmother. It’s a nice book to share with your kids. It offers great opportunity to talk about emotions and problem solving and you might even prefer this gentler ending with Cinderella forgiving her abusers and taking them with her into a better life.
Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
In this hilarious book the story of Cinderella takes place along side of a modern Cinderella parody. And by “modern” I mean circa 1960, judging from garish makeup and penny loafers. While the classical Cinderella is enduring in the silence and the drudgery that is her life and her dreams of escape, the modern Cinder Edna has no illusions. She rolls up her sleeves and takes charge of her life. The attitude is everything and Cinder Edna is determined to make the best of every situation. When it’s time to go to the ball there is no fairy godmother for Cinder Edna but only the little stash of cash she earned by doing extra work in her spare time and she is not above taking a public bus to get to the party. At the ball, the classical Cinderella is charming the pompous and haughty Prince Randolph, while Cinder Edna has practical conversations about casseroles with the prince’s brother Rupert, a down to earth, geeky chap.
The illustrations go a long way in complimenting the story. I liked the subtle details like the fact that Cinder Edna’s brown loafers matched Rupert’s practical brown suit. This story is a great opener for talking about self-sufficiency, being responsible for one’s own life and making dreams happen, problem solving (Edna’s plan to get herself to the party), hard work paying off and what does happily-ever-after mean to each person. You can talk about Cinder Edna’s loafers versus Cinderella’s glass slipper as symbols of magic versus material items. You can find some additional discussion questions on the author’s website (here). Use a simple comparison chart to talk about their families, dresses, hobbies and ever after. Print ours here.
The Persian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, art by Robert Florczak
This exotic version of Cinderella fascinated my kids on a whole new level. What does “women’s part of the house” mean? Why did the girls have to cover their faces with a cloak to prevent strangers from seeing their faces? And why is dad’s visit to the women’s quarters described as an honor? What I personally find most fascinating about this story is that it’s part of the volume in the Arabian Nights, and that was definitely in existence by the early 8th century, so much earlier than European version. If anyone needed an additional reason to believe that the Cinderella story is transcending time and space, here it is.
In this story Cinderella is a orphan maiden named Settareh “star.” She is mistreated by her relatives and her beauty only brings her more misfortune as it makes her stepsisters jealous. As the family is getting ready for the party, No Ruz, the New Year, at the Royal Palace, the father of the girl gives her a gold coin to purchase the cloth that the party dress will be made of. At the market the girl first spends a portion of her money on toasted almonds (because she is hungry), then she gives money to a beggar, and finally the last three coins go for a cracked blue pot that caught her fancy. Now she doesn’t have money for the dress to go to the party, but not to worry, the pot turns out to be magical and every time she rubs it with her finger her wish comes true. Adorned in a red dress and diamond-studded anklets to sparkle at her ankles she appears at the Palace. The party is segregated with men and women celebrating in different quarters, but Settareh runs into a handsome youth, who happens to be the Prince. Running away from the party Settareh loses her ankle bracelet, which is discovered in a ditch and through a long chain of events makes its way to the Royal Palace. The mother of the Prince sets out to find the owner of the bracelet and only Settereh’s ankle is slender enough for it. During the pre-wedding ceremonies the step-sisters use Settereh’s magic pot to put a spell on her and she turns into a dove. The Prince manages to rescue his bride and the step-sisters burst with rage.
This story is much more detailed and intricate than other Cinderella stories, but if you ever read Arabian Nights you are familiar with its poetic, if long-winded, language. The artist’s note explains that the illustrations were created with water-based markers, colored pencils, body color, and ink on brown-line paper. It was interesting to know that everything from the color schemes and architecture, to flowers and costumes, were based on authentic ancient Persia.
Cendrillon: a Caribbean Cinderella, Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
About a year ago my son proclaimed out of the blue, “If I was writing about Cinderella, I would write it from the position of godmother, so that children would know why she didn’t help Cinderella until the ball.” I often emphasize different points of view in a story, but at that time we didn’t yet have any discussions about Cinderella. So we brainstormed different ideas – the wand was in a repair-shop, she was held prisoner by a wicked witch, she was travelling in space and lost track of time… – but didn’t strike upon an explanation that was completely satisfying. Imagine then our surprise when this year we sat down to read a new library book (it was just a book we randomly grabbed from a shelf) and discovered that it’s a story of Cinderella as told by a godmother! We almost jumped out of our skins from excitement. This story takes place, “on a green-green island in the so-blue Mer des Antilles” (the island of Martinique in the Caribbean Sea). We learn that the narrator of the story was left an orphan at a young age with the only inheritance being a wand made of mahogany: “Three taps will change one thing into another,” my mother whispered, “But only for a short time. And the magic must be used to help someone you love.” Struggling to pay for shelter and food, she becomes a branchissense, a washerwoman. She seemed heading for the life of drudgery and conventional servant life until one of her mistresses dies just after appointing her a godmother to her daughter Cendrillon (Cinderella). And thus she is now offered a chance to do something bold and big and use the magical power of the wand made of mahogany to bring about happiness of the one she loves.
The spattering of French Creole words and phrases in the book add lyrical cadence to the story. The illustrations by a 2-time Caldecott winner who famously proclaimed, “I make pictures for the child in me. My work is actually my way of playing,” are striking. Brian Pinkney works with a unique medium – oil painting over scratchboard. I had to look it up. He starts with a black board and uses tools to scratch away the surface to reveal white underneath. To add color he overlays it with oil paint. If you look at the faces with a magnifying glass your mind will be blown away. “When I etch the drawing out of the board,” he explains, “I get a rhythm going with my lines which feel like sculpture to me.”
This melodious Creole story of Cinderella, told by an old woman, with a weakness for chocolate sorbet, charms not only with its illustrations and with many piquant touches like manicou and turban, but also with its original perspective.
Cinder Elly by Frances Minters
Can you imagine Cinderella living in the 1990s, in New York City? This is exactly what Frances Minters did and wrote about it in a charming verse. This Cinderella has a whole new set of problems. Her step-sisters watch too much TV, don’t let her play video-games and she is not allowed to talk to strangers. So when the godmother finally shows up (what took her so long?), she is met with, “Excuse me,“ said El. “But I know all the dangers. I’m never allowed to speak to strangers.” Not to worry, all obstacles are overcome and Cinderella is on a bike dressed in a red mini-skirt and glass sneakers on the way to a fateful basketball game. The famous Prince Charming is a school star ball player and he is swept off his feet when El catches a ball in the stands. The prince invites her for pizza but she needs to be home by 10. How does the story end? You would have to read it to find out, but I will give you a clue. It involves a copy-machine, telephone, and a taxi.
I find it interesting that to illustrate the story G. Brian Karas spend a lot of time “looking at the textured, urban collages of [New York graffiti artist] Jean-Michel Basquiat, and spent a lot of time watching MTV, particularly the rap videos, to capture the rhythm and movement of the story.” You will definitely not see crowns, castles and royal horses in this story. The predominance of browns, blacks and greys reflect the reality of living in the high-rise world of a busy city. I like Elly’s bob cut, brunette hair and sensible shoes. And a bit of graffiti-like pencil drawings on the margin of the book fits well with the overall mood of the story.
Seriously, Cinderella is so annoying by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais
“Sometimes, it’s so hard being a step-mother,” said a good-hearted, misunderstood and over-whelmed stepmother. This might be the funniest version of Cinderella you’ll ever read. Told from the position of the stepmother, it introduces a completely new perspective – Cinderella is not the angel she was always believed to be. She is actually pretty annoying. When the stepmother married Cinderella’s father and moved in with her daughters, she discovered that her new husband is a never-at-home kind of man and her step-daughter never shuts up. (Any parents with a child who doesn’t stop talking for a moment can relate). “In the dining room, Cindy told stories. In the study, Cindy told stories. Nonstop… In the garden, Cindy told stories. In the kitchen, Cindy told stories. At dinner, I couldn’t hear myself think.” “Dear, please, I said. STOP TALKING! But Cindy didn’t stop.” The only reason the stepmother kept giving Cindy chores was to keep her busy, but Cindy possessed a magical ability to finish all chores in no time. When the invitation to the ball arrived, Cindy was too sick to attend, but the impudent girl managed to get to the ball anyway (the stepmother hadn’t got a clue how that happened because Cindy’s wild stories about pumpkin coach, mice-horses, and a fairy godmother just didn’t make any sense). When the prince showed up with the glass slipper, and it fit Cindy’s foot, the stepmother and her daughters couldn’t stop rejoicing. The prince doesn’t have a clue what he had got himself into, said the stepmother, “but we lived happily ever after!” The illustrations are bright, large and cartoon-like. I love the exaggerated facial expressions. It’s a great book to play “what’s this emotion” game. This book inspired us to re-write the story from the perspective of one of the step-daughters and one of the birds. We are not ready to share our masterpiece. Overall, it’s a great book and a great way to learn that there is always more than one side to each story.
Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell, illustrated by Jane Manning
My kids have never been to Texas nor have seen any Western movies, so this version of Cinderella is as exotic to them as the Persian Cinderella. What is a ranch? Rodeo? Sombrero? And what’s up with the fast-talking, gun-totting godmother? This story follows the classical plot outline, but with the Wild West spin. The poor girl mends the fences, tends the cows and scoops up the horse poop. There is a mean stepmother and stepsisters, a (bit) nutty godmother and big rodeo celebration. Cindy Ellen is not your average wall flower, and not only does she win the roping and riding events, but she is back the next day to square dance the night away. Joe Prince is in love (and who wouldn’t?). The Diamond Spur is all he has to go on to find his girl after she takes off in a rush. It’s a great book to do the comparison chart (i.e glass slipper versus diamond spur, magic wand versus gun, ball versus rodeo…). I love a bit of Western Lore at the end of the book.
The illustrations go a long way to help make the story real. All the outside scenes have a great blue sky, red dirt, and green cacti that fill the pages with color and life. If I had to use only one word to describe the illustrations, I would say they are spirited. On each page there is a sense of boldness, movement and adventure. I love the way the characters are portrayed: big browed stepmother, big nosed stepsisters, cowboy boots-clad godmother and freckled Cindy. Life might be hard, but things turn out well at the end. And if you are nice, a little bit of magic will never leave your life. “And Cindy’s little horse kept his sparkling coat and his glittering hoofs to the end of his days.” “Zingo!”
Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella by Tony Johnston, illustrations by James Warhola
I was not planning to include this silly version of Cinderella in my roundup, just to keep it under 10, but when my kids realized that I was not including it, they said, “No, no, this is so funny! Tell other mommies about it.” (So, I ended up excluding Paul Galdone’s book, which is great by the way).
I have to admit that this must be the most creative version of Cinderella there is and the one that might appeal to boys who wince at the mention of Disney princess stories. It unexpectedly arose our curiosity about bigfoot. So, we looked it up and turned out that the term “bigfoot” was coined to describe any unknown species of North American primate. An astonishing number of books are written about the sightings of man-beast in the USA, with some of these books written by scientists with academic credentials. And many of the books are written for children. If you are curious too check them out: The Boy who cried Bigfoot, Looking for Bigfoot, Bigfoot doesn’t square dance, The Bigfoot Adventure, Into the Woods, and many more.
In, Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella, (with 5 “r”s) Tony Johnson created a comic world in which big foot and lots of hair are prized attributes and where being smelly is a virtue. Cinderella here is Ella, but her step-sisters “roared at her so much that everyone called her Rrrrrella.” Ella is a smelly, hairy, big foot creature living in a deep forest with a mean family. Ella does all the chores, loves nature and feeds the hungry bear even when it means being screamed at by her family. The bear is actually her beary godfather who gives her a pair of bark clogs. Now, Ella can participate in log-rolling at the fun-fest. And whoever rolls the prince off the log will become his wife. “Me wish dunk prince,” dreams Ella. Will she succeed?
My kids love this story mostly because the characters are big, smelly, and talk funny “me pick all flowerrrrrr.” I like the story because Ella and her prince love nature and try to protect it. They take what they need to survive, but do not waste natural resources without reason like Ella’s sisters who are fond of picking flowers to adorn their bodies. I really like this book as a potential jumping off point for discussions about natural beauty and preconceived ideas (especially in beauty: big feet versus small feet, hairy bodies or hairless, …) I also love it that Ella wins the prince by beating him at a contest and that the gift from the beary godfather appear as a reward to her kindness and not simply as underserved boom. The illustrations work great for this story. I assume that they were done with the paint, but I couldn’t find any information about it. They are large, colorful, and every page has a lush green forest background. This green version of Cinderella is hilarious. Give it a try.
So, who needs another Cinderella book? We all do. Some might think that these books do not deserve our time, but they are filled with complexity, richness and life lessons. And they are simply fun. Use fairy tales to develop critical thinking skills and if you read two different versions of a Cinderella story and compare/contrast them (Comparison Chart), you will enjoy the reading even more.
What is your favorite Cinderella story?