Cinderella Stories Around the World

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Cinderella Stories Around the World

Multicultural picture book retellings

Here in the Children's Room, I'm constantly being asked for princess stories. Almost as often, when I offer a book featuring a non-Disney, non-European princess, I'm informed (in offended or witheringly scornful tones) that all princesses are pale, blonde, and pretty.

This makes me sad.

Of course, children love the Disney versions of fairy tales. I'm the last person to fault them for that. But there's a whole world of lovely and diverse folktales on our shelves just waiting to be discovered!

All books, especially children's picture books, need to be both mirrors and windows. It's wonderful for children to see different people, different cultures, represented in the stories they read. Books featuring experiences and cultures that are unfamiliar help build knowledge, awareness, and empathy.  

However, it is of equal importance that a child is able to see him or herself in a story and relate to it on a literal level. And so, driven to the shelves in despair after being told yet again that the only acceptable princess is one with shining golden curls, I compiled a list of multicultural Cinderella stories.
There are lots to choose from. While the "classic" Cinderella (the basis for the Disney version) with which we are all so familiar is drawn from Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper, written by Charles Perrault in 1697 and popularized by the Grimm Brothers in 1812, the story is actually much older.
Cinderella's story is one that has been told all over the world. According to this excellent bibliography compiled by the American Library Association (much more comprehensive than this list could possibly be), there are 500 different versions of Cinderella in Europe alone! There are Indonesian Cinderella, Irish Cinderellas (and Cinder-lads), Native American and Caribbean Cinderellas, as well as Persian, Chinese, Korean, Hmong, Scottish, VietnameseEgyptian, Greek, Mexican, Spanish-American, and French Cinderellas...

Over the centuries, the tale has been told and retold thousands of times; it's been adapted, fractured, reimagined and parodied. Search "cinderella" in the DC Public Library catalog, and you'll get several hundred results

Here are just a few of the marvelous Cinderella picture books that we have in our collection. 

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: a Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman
With so many choices, it would be almost impossible to pick a favorite, but Paul Fleischman's book is at the lop of my list. This is a beautiful tapestry of text that combines many different versions of the so-familiar tale.

In his simple Author's Note, Fleischman describes the universality of the Cinderella story, which changes, chameleon-like, with its surroundings -- the shape remains the same, even though details blur and shift. This book does the same thing, moving fluidly from country to country with each page -- yet the narrative is uninterrupted, and there's no abruptness in the shifting, merging text. The delightful patterned illustrations frame and anchor our story in each of its many cultures, and the interwoven threads of narrative serve to highlight the similarities (and the differences) in the Cinderella stories we tell.

I particularly like Cinderella books that not only draw on (or originate in) other cultures, but which also incorporate some other language. Little Gold Star/Estrella de Oro by Joe Hayes is a bilingual retelling, and Sheila Hébert Collins' Cendrillon: a Cajun Cinderella includes French words and phrases that are defined for the reader on each page.

There are Cinderella stories that predate the Perrault/Grimm version by hundreds of years.
The Cinderella character has taken many names over the years, but the same story elements can be found in the folklore of Ancient Egypt (the tale of Rhodopis), India (the princess in the "Nagami"), and China (Yeh-Shen).  

There are at least three different Native American Cinderella stories to be found on our shelves: 
Zuni Cinderella (The Turkey Girl retold by Penny Pollock, illustrated by Ed Young), aOjibwa Cinderella (Sootface retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Daniel San Souci), and, of course, the Algonquin Cinderella (The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin). Though The Turkey Girl has an unexpected ending, each of these presents the story of a girl who is valued not for her beauty, but for her kindness or strength of spirit.

-- and there are more modern versions too!  
Steven Guarnaccia, the creative and clever mind behind the architectural version of the Three Little Pigs, has given an haute couture twist to our familiar tale of magical ball gowns and glass slippers in Cinderella: a Fashionable Tale.  Then there's the Ella's Big Chance: a Jazz-Age Cinderella written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes. This fun retelling follows Ella Cinders through the dazzling world of the 1920s.

So, though she has lots of different names (Billy Beg, Cendrillon, Jouanah, Adelita)and she appears all over the world (from the Middle East in The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox to Africa in Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, or Appalachia in Ashpet, retold by Joanne Compton) she's still Cinderella.

Next time a child asks for a princess book, why not reach for a different kind of fairy tale?