There must be a universal love for the Cinderella story in the heart of humankind because we can find so many versions among the peoples of the world. They all tell the same basic plot: a poor, downtrodden girl who is beautiful in spirit as well as in appearance gets to marry the prince who has perceived her beauty. Beyond the universal core, each individual story represents the colorful character of its culture.
Ella's Big Chance, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, is a modern jazz-age tale. It is our family's favorite and not only because of Hughes' true to life character illustrations. All the classic elements, the evil stepmother and sisters, the fairy godmother and the lost slipper are present. However, this modern Cinderella has no use for the shallow rich duke who wants to marry her for her beauty. Instead Ella choses her poor but faithful friend Buttons to build their own fortune through the work of their hands.
I must come to the defense of the prince's powers of discernment in this traditional German Cinderella fairy tale from the collection of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm tenderly illustrated by Ulrike Haseloff. By choosing beauty, this prince also choses virtue because in the poetic repertoire of oral story telling, physical beauty is an image of virtue. While in Ella"s Big Chance, Shirley Hughes draws and writes portraits of individuals as we do in modern literature, the fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm present character types.
We continue with more our family favorites, two Mexican Cinderellas. Tomie de Paola's wonderful illustrations and story telling make him one of our go to authors for any kind of folk tale. His Adelita is a feast for the eye and ear. Beautiful Mexican everyday objects like stone ware, kitchen gear and vegetables create the setting along with the typical contrasts between very bright and subdued adobe colors. Paola's simple, naive faces convey such an amazing depth of emotion and character.
Domitila follows her mother's admonition to perform every task with care and love. Adhering to this principle, the a poor Mexican girl wins the love of the selfish governor's son. He falls in love with her delicious nopales, the delicacy made from 'weeds', but eventually becomes a better man through his love for Domitila.
With Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, we venture into cultures far from our own. This Caldecott winning African tale introduces foreign Cinderella elements like a shape shifting king. Instead of a stepmother and two step sisters, this tale only has two beautiful sisters, one good and one evil. I love the difference as well as the similarity between African and European girls in matters of beauty and fashion. Clothing and hairstyles may look different but the importance of beauty and fashion in their lives is exactly the same.
In Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China, a magic fish and a fairy godfather provide the assistance needed to get Cinderella to the spring festival. In this ancient tale, the King falls in love with Cinderella's lost slipper, a very small, golden, magic slipper, before meeting the shoe's owner. The beautiful water color illustrations blend people and events into fish shaped backgrounds. The spirit of the guardian fish is present on each page.
Although this is a blog about books, I cannot resist mentioning the Vietnamese movie Tam Cam: The Untold Story . It is a sumptuous
and beautiful production starting out with the Cinderella tale above. Though hard to tell, as the language is Vietnamese, I do believe this movie is a subtle spoof. Just look at that goofy fairy godfather or at the princess's face crumbling into a fit of tears like a three-year-old.