Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cinderella Is All Over The Place

This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I tend to pick up picture books that are on subjects of interest to me, hoping, I guess, that I'll pick up information written on a level I have some chance of understanding.

For years now I've been thinking of writing a book with some Egyptian material, so when I saw The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo on the new book shelf at a local library, I snatched it up. Sure enough, this is an Egyptian variation on the Cinderella story. It is a little creepy that the Cinderella figure is rather fair-haired and pink-cheeked while the servant girls who take the place of the evil stepsisters are much darker. I'm not sure what to make of that, since Rhodopis (the Egyptian Cinderella) is picked on for her looks. Is it some kind of subtle racism since the white girl gets the pharaoh? Or will young readers think of race differently, since the palest character is the one who is treated badly?

In spite of that worry, I do like the idea of Cinderella stories from other cultures. Climo and her illustrator, Ruth Heller, also produced The Korean Cinderella, and with another illustrator Climo published The Persian Cinderella.

By the way, though I found The Egyptian Cinderella on a "New Book" shelf, it is not a newly published book. It was published in 1989. Way to go, Shirley. That's a good long time for a picture book to be in print.


grrlpup said...

I like Yeh Shen, a Chinese version illustrated by the amazing Ed Young. The "also bought" info on its Amazon page leads to Caribbean and Algonquin versions, too.

Monica Edinger said...

While I too enjoy the Cinderellas from other cultures, I recommend caution as windows into other cultures. I've been studying, teaching, speaking, and writing about Cinderella for around twenty years and just finished this year's unit with my students.

Roxanne/fairrosa and I teach a graduate online course for Rutgers on fairy tales and center one unit on Cinderella. She takes on Yeh Shen (as she is from Taiwan) and I take on Mufaro's Beautiful Daughter (because of my Sierra Leone experience). Both are very problematic in this regard.

If you can track it down, you might want to look at Jack Zipes' New York Times review of The Egyptian Cinderella where he addresses the race issue therein (which, indeed, was done by the illustrator as it is not in the original story).

There are many, many books on Cinderella, but one very accessible one is one by Judy Sierra (a collection of tales and some essays --- can't remember the exact title and too lazy to go look this early).

Sorry to go on, but this is a topic I know about!

Gail Gauthier said...

Monica--I did see that review. I had noticed the fairness of the Cinderella figure in the Climo/Heller version and did think it was odd, but I thought maybe I was thinking in stereotypes, myself, since the character was supposed to come from Greece. After reading the review, I decided I should address it.

The Egyptian Cinderella being such an old book, I never expected to get much of a response to this post. This is great.

fusenumber8 said...

Oh, thank God. I've always harbored a great deal of discomfort when it comes to "The Egyptian Cinderella" ever since I had to look at it in graduate school. She's frigging blond. And how many blond Egyptians were there, exactly? I have great respect for Climo when it comes to worldwide Cinderella tales, but illustrator Ruth Heller's gots some 'splaining to do.

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