Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A worldwide Cinderella"

                I know about Cinderella, just like I know about most traditional folktales, thanks to the fine people at Walt Disney.  I can still remember singing “Cider-elly, Cinder-elly” along with the mice.  Who didn’t want a bunch of mice who would be your friend and make awesome dresses for you?  I carried this tale of Cinderella in my heart preserved exactly the way it was portrayed in the film.  I don’t recall reading many different versions of it as a child.  It wasn’t until I read the brilliant Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levin in fifth grade that I saw a different side.  Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, attempts to bring not just one, but many different versions of Cinderella to a wide audience.

The basic premise of the Cinderella story is the same in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella (published 2007).  Cinderella’s father marries a widow with two step daughters.  There is a man who is royal, who is putting on a ball.  Cinderella desperately wants to go, but her stepmother thwarts her by giving her a seemingly impossible task.  Thanks to some magic, Cinderella is able to go to the ball.  No one at the ball, not even her stepmother, knows who this radiant young woman is.  The prince falls in love, a shoe is left behind, and the prince and Cinderella are eventually married when he finds her again and the shoe fits. 


                So what makes this book special?  Like I said, it follows through with the same plot that we have all seen.  Since there are over 1,000 different versions of Cinderella (according to the author’s note), what makes this one unique is Paul Fleischman’s ability to weave so many different stories into one text.  In the author’s note, he says he wants us to “listen in on the tale-tellers we don’t often hear, who’ve breathed this story to life around fires of peat and pinon pine, swinging in hammocks and snuggling under deerskins.”  In a country that is oftentimes very focused on ourselves, Paul Fleischman wants to give us the Cinderella stories of all different kinds of places.  On the end pages, there is a map dotted with where all the different sources for the story came from, including Appalachia, Mexico, West Indies, Ireland, Germany, Poland, France, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia, India, China, Laos, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan.  You have to admire a man who weaves together almost 20 different stories!

                On each page, there is at least one, and sometimes more than one, different country
on the page.  Thankfully, Julie Paschkis tells us which country is being discussed on the page.  While keeping the same plot, the text changes to accommodate the story of each country.  On one page that is Korean, Cinderella is forced to sleep in the hearth for warmth.  When the great ball is announced on the Zimbabwe page, all the woman dressed up in “their finest robes.”  There are three different types of footwear presented in the text, glass slippers for France, diamond anklets for India, and sandals of gold for Iraq.  Perhaps my favorite page is the one from Laos, where to hide Cinderella from the king’s messenger the stepmother rolls her up in a mat and hides her.

                Julie Paschkis’ illustrations were done using gouache.  According to my computer’s dictionary, this is “A thick, opaque watercolor paint made with gum containing an inert white pigment to make it opaque.”  I’m not familiar with art, but from what I can tell, this method makes the illustrations very bold, and fine details are not possible.  On the dust jacket, it says that “she was particularly inspired by the traditional textiles of the cultures, weaving together the various colors and design motifs to create one story.”  There are framed illustrations, but surrounding these are illustrations that look like textiles.  Each of the textile-like illustrations changes slightly to fit with the country of origin.  These illustrations serve dual-purpose of being both beautiful to look at and letting the reader know when a different country is being discussed.

                I really enjoyed this book, but I do have a few reservations about it.  I don’t think that the story is always easy to follow, and it doesn’t always feel like an integrated whole.  I, at 26 years old, found a few parts of the story confusing.  When Cinderella was finally able to go to the ball, a page follows that has three different countries.  The text reads “The girl was free to go, but she had nothing to wear except rags. (Laos)  Then she reached into the hole in the birch tree. (Russia)  Then a crocodile swam up to the surface—and in its mouth was a sarong made of gold.. (Indonesia)”  Wait, what?  My first thought was, “A crocodile swam up to the surface of a birch tree?”  I had to reread the text and realize that there are points in the book where Paul Flesichman decides to maintain multiple perspectives of the same event. I just think it’s confusing.  Does she wear a sarong made of gold, a “cloak sewn of king-fisher feathers” or a “kimono red as sunset” to the ball?  I understand what he is trying to do, showing us all the different ways that the Cinderella story has been told; I just don’t think it always works.  I strongly feel that a child reading this text might get confused.  I like the parts of the story where the story shifts from one country to the next, changing slightly but still maintaining the one storyline approach.

                That being said, I do like this book.  I love the idea of bringing in multiple perspectives for a reader.  Children probably won’t even know that some of these countries exist, and I think it is always great to raise awareness with our children.  I really like the framing of the story, wherein it starts with a woman reading a Cinderella story to a little girl with the text reading “Once upon a time there lived a wealthy merchant whose wife had died.  They had one daughter, gentle-eyed and good-hearted.”  Then, at the end, the book closes with the same two figures and it reads “and such a wondrous turn of events… that people today are still telling the story.”  It’s a great closure that hints at the ever-changing nature of the story that Paul Fleischman is getting at in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal.  I feel that Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis have met their goal, and that many people, myself included, will be able to move beyond the simple fairy godmother, dress-making mice kind of Cinderella.
If you are interested in reading more versions of Cinderella, check out this teacher's website  As an extra-credit assignment, they compiled different versions of Cinderella that you can download as a pdf.
The American Library Association as a very cool list of multicultural Cinderella stories that you can view here.  Very cool!
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1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading the information you located about how the illustration where created. I thought they were beautiful.