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Check It Out

Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Cinderella" Story Treasured Worldwide

Given the summer reading program theme of "One World, Many Stories", it would be an excellent time for you to become reacquainted with the depth of the folklore collections in our EVPL libraries. Did you know that one tale in particular can be found in the literature of nearly every culture around the world? Can you guess what story? (Feel free to play the theme from "Jeopardy" in your head while you contemplate.) OK, time's up. If you guessed "Cinderella" you would be correct. Here are some outstanding examples of the Cinderella tradition.

Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, follows the more familiar threads of the Cinderella story with a lovely girl whose doting papa dies, leaving Adelita to live with a mean-spirited step-mother and two step-sisters. Adelita's only friend, her kindly old nurse, Esperanza, is banished, leaving the young girl to endure a life as servant to the others in the household. DePaola's trademark acrylic paintings feature Mexican tile work in vibrant colors that frame each page as if we are watching the scenes through the hacienda's open windows. A homecoming fiesta in honor of the handsome Javier truly sets the story in motion. Mamá with her daughters Valentina and Dulce are invited but they forbid Adelita to come along. A soft tap at the door announces Esperanza who leads Adelita to a trunk that belonged to the girl's mother. Inside is a beautiful white dress and colorful shawl just waiting to be worn. With her hair braided and wound with ribbons and flowers, Adelita is a vision and off to the fiesta. Javier thought she was lovely, too, as he only danced with this stranger all evening. Nearing midnight, Javier pledges his love but Adelita knows he could never truly love a kitchen maid. Also true to the story, Adelita, in her haste, leaves behind a "Zapatilla de cristal"-a glass slipper, so tiny and dainty that none of the eligible young ladies could possibly wear it. One only, that is, and when Javier comes looking for his true love, Adelita quickly hangs the lovely rebozo (shawl) from her window. Javier sees the shawl, Adelita appears wearing the white dress, and voila! Javier has found his "Cenicienta"-his Cinderella. Ah, yes, the stuff of dreams.

Robert D. San Souci's adaptation of the Cinderella tale shares many similarities with Adelita. In San Souci's story, Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella, the godmother is the narrator, though. A smattering of French Creole words is included for authentic flavor while artist Brian Pinkney's scratchboard, gouache, and oil paintings infuse the pages with a lush tropical palette. Nannin' (godmother) helps Cendrillon who is denied an invitation by her step-mother, Madame Prospèrine and step-sister, Vitaline, to handsome Paul Thibault's birthday fete. Thanks to Nannin's magic mahogany wand, Cendrillon arrives at the manor house resplendent in a sky-blue velvet gown. Paul is awestruck by Cendrillon's beauty and charm but at midnight Cendrillon leaves behind a pink slipper and well, you know the rest of the story.

Set in Egypt during the sixth century B.C., The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo with visually stunning illustrations by Ruth Heller introduces us to a Greek slave who is scorned by servants of the household for her yellow hair and green eyes. Because her pale skin burned in the hot Egyptian sun she became known as Rhodopis which meant "rosy-cheeked". Rhodopis was a friend to the animals and danced with them when her chores were done for the day. Seeing this, her master presented her with a pair of rosy-gold slippers which further angered the servants and so when the household left for a trip to fabled Memphis to see the Pharaoh, Rhodopis was left behind. To add further misery, a falcon snatched one of Rhodopis's beautiful slippers and flew away. The falcon (the god Horus in feathered disguise) was playing matchmaker, however, and dropped the slipper on the Pharaoh's lap. "Every maiden in Egypt must try this shoe! She whose foot it fits shall be my queen. That is the will of the gods." You see where this is headed, too, don't you, dear readers! The Pharaoh searched cities near and far until he found his future queen. The servants were indignant, of course, saying that Rhodopis was not even an Egyptian. But the wise Pharaoh replied, "She is the most Egyptian of all...for her eyes are as green as the Nile, her hair as feathery as papyrus, and her skin the pink of a lotus flower." As author Climo states in the afterword, her story of Rhodopis is both fable and fact as there was indeed a Greek slave girl named Rhodopis who married the Pharaoh Amasis.

A more recent adaptation of the Cinderella story is an interesting amalgam of several ethnic retellings skillfully blended into a seamless tale by Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. With representative folk art by Julie Paschkis, Glass Slipper blends elements of the Cinderella motif from Mexico, Korea, Iraq, Russia, Iran, India, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Germany, Appalachia, Laos, Indonesia, China, Japan, France, the West Indies, and Poland. A two-page world map pinpoints the locations of each country or area represented in the story. Fleischman concludes Glass Slipper with this statement meant for us all: "Such a wedding it was, and such an adoring couple...and such a wondrous turn of events...that people today are still telling the story." And so we are.