Monday, May 9, 2011

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella

Written By: Alan Schroeder
Illustrated By: Brad Sneed

“Now Lis’en.  Smack in the heart o’ the Smoky Mountains, there was this old trapper livin’ in a log cabin with his daughter.  One night, while Rose was fryin’ a mess o’ fish, the trapper, he starts lookin’ dejected-like.  “I reckon it’s hard on ye, not havin’ a ma,” he said.  “Tell me, Rose, would ye lak me to git hitched again?  There’s a widow woman with two daughters down the road a piece.  Way I see it, we’d all fit together neater’n a jigsaw.”

And with that, the story of Smoky Mountain Rose begins.  Author Alan Schroeder bases this sidesplitting tale on Charles Perrault’s, “Cendrillon.”  Perrault’s tale is one of the most popular versions of the classic Cinderella and is the one that most Americans are familiar with.  Schroeder kept many of the familiar elements of Cinderella in his version, Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella.   For example, the glass slippers, evil stepsisters, and the midnight curfew are all a part of Schroeder’s tale.  He also kept the overall plot the same—although, he did change the ending a bit by telling readers that Rose and Seb are still living happily ever after to this day—as they are sitting on a swing happily in their old age.

Although many of the classic elements of Cinderella are the same, the variations he made are what made this version special.  For example, a prince would be quite unrealistic, so instead, Schroeder created Seb who was a, “real rich feller—made his fortune in sowbellies and grits.”  Instead of having a fancy ball, Seb hosts a party—a shindig if you will.  To give the country feel, Smoky Mountain Rose’s godmother is a hog—and her carriage was made from mushmelon. 

Another difference in this tale is that the stepmother and stepsisters recognize Smoky Mountain Rose when she arrives at the party.  As they watched Rose and Seb having a great time, “Gertie and her two daughters stood off to the side, madder n’ blazes.  “Look at her,” sneered Gertie, “sashayin’ round lak she’s the belly o’ the ball.  I’ll fix her when she gits home—giver her a list o’ chores she won’t never finish.”  Similar to the Disney version; however, the stepsisters do have a change of heart once Seb and Rose get married.

The language and dialogue of this story is what makes it so comical.  This is definitely a book that needs to be read aloud in order to appreciate the full humor of the story.  Most reviews for this version were very positive; however, there were two reviewers on Amazon that did not appreciate the book at all.  One reviewer stated, “This book is a mockery of Southern Appalachian people.  Not only is the dialogue incorrectly conveyed, but the pictures are demeaning as well.”  Another reviewer writes, “The dialect is less Appalachian and more like something straight from an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies.”  It appears as though one reviewer is from West Virginia and the other does not specify.  Without being a cultural insider myself, it is hard to say whether or not this book is overall offensive to the Appalachian people.

The brightly colored illustrations by Brad Sneed are unique and expressionistic.  The figures are drawn very angular and disproportionate.  For example, the characters have narrow upper bodies and tall skinny necks, but have very wide lower bodies.  Sneed also uses a lot of perspective in his full-bleed illustrations.  Sometimes, we are brought in close to the action and other times we are kept away—but we are always kept close to the action through Sneed’s use of angles.  A reviewer from the School Library Journal writes, “The paintings are realistically rendered but slightly distorted figures are elongated and angular, features exaggerated, and perspectives askew. People are clad in fashions of the 1940s and the lush Appalachian landscape is always in evidence. The fanciful, but decidedly quirky artwork effectively informs readers, in case they didn't already know it, that there's magic in them thar hills.”  Booklist writes, “Sneed's watercolors are rich and intense; his angular lines draw readers into the action, whether the perspective is up close for Rose's feet or set back for scenes from a distance.”

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella is a valuable tale to add to any Cinderella collection.  However, it is important to keep in mind that the dialogue and representation of the Appalachian people may not be accurate throughout the story.  Therefore, it is critical that if this book is made available to read, other books that accurately depict Appalachia must also be made available in order to void any stereotypes that may present themselves through the reading of this book.

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