Children's books reviewed by Suzanne Holland
Ask any child to explain the story of Cinderella and chances are you will receive the Disney version, complete with adorable birds and mice, a blonde beauty, a Hollywood handsome prince and a sparkling ever after.
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The appeal of a story about an overworked and underappreciated girl who suffers at the hands of a wicked stepmother and sisters but triumphs in the end is universal.
Children all over the world love stories that speak to their strong sense of fairness and justice. Evil should always be punished and the good should be lavishly rewarded. There should be an element of magic involved.
The Cinderella motif has existed for centuries and its variants are found in cultures worldwide. The oldest of written Cinderella stories is Chinese: Yeh-Hsien. This Asian tale then traveled to Europe, appearing in the Brothers Grimm version and the classic Charles Perrault story. Eventually it made its way to the New World, which gave the stories a distinctive American flavor.
If you feel like compiling a more diverse Cinderella collection, here are some choices.
Yeh-Shen, A Cinderella Story from China. Retold by Ai-Ling Louie and illustrated by Ed Young.
Yeh-Shen is a girl of great beauty and goodness who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister. Her only comfort in this bleak home is a carp that she cares for in secret. Angered by this, the stepmother kills the fish.
A shabby old man who tells her that the fish’s bones have magic powers and will grant wishes approaches heartbroken Yeh-Shen. She is warned not to overtax the fish and he disappears. The story continues in the expected fashion; feast, finery and a king determined to find her. Instead of a glass slipper Yeh-Shen is shod with a tiny gold slipper. This calls to mind the value the Chinese had for women with tiny feet, as it was considered a sign of a wellborn woman.
The king discovers Yeh-Shen, is taken by her beauty and they marry. One element that parents may want to gloss over is the demise of the stepmother and sisters. They are forced to live in a cave and in the end flying stones crush them. This is only recounted, however and not elaborated upon.
The familiarity of many of this Cinderella story’s elements as well as the dreamy and gentle illustrations by Young will enchant many young readers. It would be a great addition to a classroom library as well.
Kongi and Potgi by Oki S. Han and Stephanie Plunkett. Illustrated by Oki S. Han.
Kongi and Potgi is one of Korea’s most popular tales and this exquisite version deserves a special place of honor. Kongi is a sweet, motherless girl whose life changes dramatically when her stepmother and stepsister, Potgi, move in to the house. Kongi is made to do all the menial work-filling water jars and clearing the rocky fields. Friendly animals, an element found in traditional Korean fairytales, assist Kongi.
Kongi’s moment of transformation is accomplished by a radiant bevy of angels and she is carried to the feast in a sedan chair. No clock chimes at midnight in this story, rather, the modest Kongi runs back home as she is flustered by the prince’s attention! The story continues along expected lines and as queen Kongi rules with kindness.
The detailed watercolor illustrations by Oki Han are delightful and the vivid colors will charm readers of any age.
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, written and illustrated by John Steptoe.
Inspired by An African folktale and based upon actual Zimbabwean sites, John Steptoe has produced a book of incredible beauty and delicacy, both in its carefully detailed and researched illustrations and its gentle prose.
Beauty proves to more than skin deep as the two beautiful daughters display very different personalities. Manyara is vain and jealous while Nyasha has a kind and gentle soul. The king seeks a bride so the two sisters travel to win his approval. Along the way are fantastic sights and obstacles meant to test the goodness of the bride.
The reader knows that Nyasha will prevail, and the ending will surely delight all readers.
This is not one of your typical Cinderella stories as there is no shoe involved but there is a magic snake! The book is an investment for the illustrations alone.
This is a Caldecott Honor book, well deserved!
For a fun and distinctly American alternative, try Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley.
This spoof of the classic Cinderella story opens in the expected manner.
Poor Cinderella is introduced as a much put upon victim of the cruel step mother and stepsisters. However, there is another girl who lives next door in the exact same circumstance. The difference between them? Cinderella acts the martyr while Edna is ever practical and resourceful.
Children will laugh at the antics surrounding the ball, and discover that being clever is better than being pretty. That’s not a bad message!
O’Malley’s illustrations are boisterous and definitely lend an air of hilarity to Jackson’s “only in America” story.
There are any number of variations of Cinderella stories out there and a good librarian should be able to provide an index.
Cinderella, beloved across the ages and the continents!
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