A Worldwide Cinderella
Written by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
C’era una volta…(Italian)
Érase una vez…(Spanish)
Il était une fois…(French)
Es war einmal…(German)
Once upon a time…
Regardless of origin, children around the world recognize these simple words as the beginning of a traditional fairy tale. Language, however, is only one aspect of the diverse cultures and traditions reflected in the innumerable versions of various tales such as Cinderella (or Ashpet, Vasalisa, Sootface, Catskin, or Cendrillon—depending).
The author’s note begins with, “A chameleon changes color to match its surroundings. Stories do the same.” Following this concept, Fleischman and Paschkis incorporate various versions of Cinderella from places like Mexico, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Laos, and China in their tale, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal. A labeled map of the world, specifically chosen to show these different countries, covers the inside front and back covers of the book and prepares us to embark on our journey around the world where we can listen in to the tale being told.
The book begins with an illustration framed in white of a young girl sitting on the lap of her mother listening to her read the tale of Cinderella. There is a globe on the end table, again giving us the feeling that we are going somewhere—but we are not sure where yet. When we turn the page, we are immediately met with a frame of bright orange and yellow with images meant to reflect the Mexican culture. The text reflects the Mexican version of Cinderella with phrases like, “The woman gave the girl treats when she passed—pan dulce to eat, sugarcane to chew.”
As I continued to read, I noticed that each country was represented with a different color frame. Lime green for Korea, turquoise for Iraq, muted orange for Russia, pink for India, and so on. These colored frames, although also labeled with the name of the country they were representing, helped separate the story so it was recognized when a different culture was introduced. However, the style of the illustrations helped to bring all of the cultures together. For example, there were similar patterns of different shapes that helped the pictures to flow freely together. Interestingly, Paschkis also kept the image of Cinderella generally the same. There was some variation on skin tone and of course, she was dressed to reflect the culture being represented—but her facial features and hair color were very similar in each picture. This made me feel like Cinderella was travelling from place to place throughout the story and becoming part of each tale.
As a reader, I feel it is important to be exposed to many different versions of Cinderella prior to reading this one. In fact, I think it would be interesting to read the full versions of each tale. Although Fleischman did a wonderful job integrating the different tales into one, I think a child might get confused with the changes unless they are already familiar with the story. For example, in the part of the story where Cinderella is transformed from rags into a beautiful garment and shoes, there are several different outfits that Cinderella transforms to. “Then a crocodile swam up to the surface—and in its mouth was a sarong made of gold…a cloak sewn of kingfisher feathers…a kimono red as sunset.” Shortly after, Cinderella shows up at the ball representing Poland. Although the concept is the same around the world—Cinderella dresses to the nines and attends the ball—it could be confusing to make the connections of what is happening if you are not already familiar with the story.
As the story ends, Cinderella is celebrating her marriage to the Prince in several of the cultures represented in the book. They feast on “…mangoes and melons…” from Zimbabwe, “..rice seasoned with almonds…” from India, “…beef stew and lamb stew…” from Ireland, and “…anise cookies and custards…” from Mexico. I wonder if these are traditional celebratory foods for these different countries.
Fleischman concludes the story returning to the white-framed illustration of the little girl and her mother finishing up the story of Cinderella. The globe on the end table looks as though it has spun, showing us that people are still telling the story of Cinderella all around the world.