Versions of Cinderella have been told and retold across cultures. There are so many wonderfully illustrated picture books for these multicultural tales that it’s hard to choose ones to highlight. We list a handful of our favorites–all kid- and family-tested!–as well as some resources for more. What better way to spend your reading time this summer than delighting in the Cinderella story told from a range of traditions, countries, and cultures?
Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella by Jewell Reinhart Coburn
This Southeast Asian version takes place in a Hmong village. In order to help her peasant family prosper, Jouanah’s mother allows herself to be transformed into a cow. When her father takes a new wife, the step-mother is so mean that she tricks the father into sacrificing the cow, and he soon dies of grief himself. Cruelly treated, Jouanah’s kindness is rewarded by her mother’s spirit who is the “fairy godmother” in this tale. Rather than a court with princes and princesses, the power of this story comes from the village life including community festivals and the farming families supporting each other. The characters are illustrated with realistic paintings that are both expressive and captivating to young children and adults alike.
The Rough Face Girl by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon
Rough-Face Girl is the youngest of three sisters in this Algonquin folktale set on the shores of Lake Ontario. She is named the Rough-Face Girl because her skin and even her hair is scarred from burns from the sparks of the fire that her older sisters make sure she tends. Rather than a handsome prince, in this version the older sisters both want to marry the “rich, powerful, and supposedly handsome” Invisible Being. Of course, he recognizes her true inner beauty and marries the Rough-Face Girl. The story itself is well-told, but it is David Shannon’s illustrations that raise this book to being more than a fine picture book, but a true work of art. The interesting play of light and dark help shield Rough-Face Girl from showing the readers the extend of her scarring, yet highlight the beauty of the land and the Invisible Being himself. Kids really appreciate the emotions on the faces of the characters; the evil older sisters sneer and look down their noses at their younger sister. As a side note, we also really appreciate that Rough-Face Girl depends on herself rather than intervention from a magical being; she creates her own clothes and sets out to meet the Invisible Being herself, despite taunts from her sisters and the other villagers.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
John Steptoe’s retelling of an African folk-tale has many familiar Cinderella elements. The king invites the young women of his kingdom to his palace so he can choose a worthy wife. Mufaro is well-known for having two beautiful daughters, who go to meet the ruler. Though both daughters are beautiful, Manyara is quite mean, while Nyasha, the Cinderella character, is good-hearted, kind, and generous. The king chooses the one who has a good soul, not someone whose beauty is only skin-deep. The illustrations are simply magical, showing the flowers and fauna of Zimbabwe, which can spark an interest in further investigation of African cultures and countries.
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft
Russian children grow up hearing stories about Baba Yaga, the frightening witch who lives in a house that seems to be on stilts, but that are really chicken legs that can walk and move her home. Both of us were drawn to this folktale as young children, though we read and heard different versions. In this Cinderella-like folktale, Vasilisa is the mistreated step-daughter who is aided by the magical doll her mother made for her before she died. With the help of this doll, she is able to perform the impossible tasks that Baba Yaga requires of her–and of course, ultimately marries the Tsar. The illustrations are reminiscent of the black-laquered wood of Russian folk art paintings and definitely add to the appeal of the book. There are many intricate details, including large illustrated capital letters, and gorgeous borders. In this version, Baba Yaga lives in a house of human bones rather than one on chicken legs–maybe even more creepy. She is one scary witch! But children we know are fascinated rather than terrified by this picture book. Another wonderful read-aloud–take time to absorb the pictures as you read the story. It’s worth it!
Cendrillon: A Carribean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci and Brian Pinkney
This West Indian version of Cinderella is told from the fairy godmother’s perspective. Here, a poor washerwoman is left a magic wand by her mother and is able to use it to help her dearly loved god-daughter. The lush tropical setting is captured by Brian Pinkney’s beautiful palette of seaside colors. We love the lyricism of the language with its celebration of French Creole words and phrases. And the helpful index at the back of the book explains the Creole words for interested readers.
Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella by Alan Schroeder
Set in the Appalachian Mountains around the turn of the 20th century, this retelling features a kind-hearted–and articulate –hog “that knew some magic” rather than a fairy godmother, and instead of a fancy dress ball, Rose and Seb get together at a square dance. Rose’s step-sisters are so mean “they’d steal flies form a blind spider.” Like Cendrillon, a lot of the fun is in the delightful dialect. A wonderful read-aloud for the whole family to enjoy the rhythms of the language and the down-home humor.
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Al-ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young
The Chinese version has most of the “classic” elements of the folktale: a poor, mistreated hard-working young girl, wicked step-mother and step-sister, a ruler looking for a wife, magical help, and a lost shoe. The magical help for Yeh-Shen comes in the form of a magical fish. She earns his help through her acts of kindness. Ed Young is a terrific illustrator, and this book is one of his best, with dreamy, misty evocative paintings.
Another magical combination of words and pictures. Robert Floczak’s paintings are so realistic, it’s easy to mistake them for photographs. And he uses traditional motifs for border designs that really enhance the mood of the story. In this Cinderella version, Settareh is the young heroine who needs new cloth to make a dress to wear to the prince’s celebrations. Instead, she buys an old cracked jug, and in a scene reminiscent of Aladin’s lamp, discovers it is inhabited by a pari who can grant all her wishes. Of course, she enlists his help to attend the festival in beautiful clothes, and an exquisite diamond ankle bracelet, which–alas–she leaves behind. Due to her stepsisters’ treachery, the jug is destroyed, and Settareh herself is changed to a turtledove. Love prevails and her prince is able to return her to her true self. Shirley Climo, in her afterword, explains that the story comes from The Arabian Nights and uses authentic Persian elements: setting–the No Ruz, or New Day of both ancient Persian and today’s Iran, Settarch as a popular name for this Persian Cinderella even today, and the Prince’s name which means “one who shows compassion.”
Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition by Jewel Reinhart Coburn, illustrated by Connie McLennan
Based on a family legend of the Rivera family of Hidalgo, Mexico, this Cinderella tale has more realistic elements than the magic of a fairy godmother, glass slippers, and pumpkin coaches. Here, Domatila is a skilled young cook and craftsperson who is sent to the Governor’s mansion to cook his meals. When her mother dies, Domaitla returns home, and the governor’s son misses her wonderful cooking and sets out to find her with only her leather sandal as a clue. There is of course treachery afoot with an evil almost-step-sister, but Domitila prevails. The oil illustrations are very enticing and draw the reader into the story. There is even a recipe for Domatila’s nopales on the last page of the book!
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Award-winning author Paul Fleishman sets out to create a “new” Cinderella tale drawn from many different versions around the world. The illustrations by Julie Paschkis are an integral part of the story’s success, since each page uses the folk art and textile patterns from the region of the world that part of the story is drawn from, and she cleverly finds different ways to label the countries as a helpful aid to the reader. Seventeen distinct cultures are represented in this story, and somehow, Flesichman manages to make the narrative work. The simple device of a mother reading the story to her daughter helps keep the story-teller’s voice consistent. A wonderful addition to your world-wide tour of the Cinderella tale.
We were surprised at the number of terrific multicultural Cinderella resources on the Web. Here are a few favorites:
A comprehensive list of picture book resources for Cinderella worldwide
Cinderella Folktexts, collected by D. L. Ashliman
Eighteen Cinderella stories from around the world, with the full texts available online.
“A thorough and scholarly annotated bibliography of texts, analogues, criticism, modern versions, parodies — ranging from ancient folklore through recent popular culture, and modern scholarship. Organized by Russell A. Peck, University of Rochester”