Cinderella is one of the most popular European folk tales in all of history, and hundreds if not thousands of different versions and retellings have been recorded. Most Western children are familiar with the “classic” Cinderella story told in traditional tales and movies such as Disney’s titular 1950 film. However, there are now many versions of the tale available that vary the culture and setting of the story, creating the perfect opportunity to introduce children to different editions of this favorite folk tale.
Cendrillon, written by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, is one retelling that stands out in particular. While it was published a while ago in 1998, the timeless nature of the Cinderella story makes this picture book a great addition to any home library. The book can also be used in the classroom to expose young students (ages 4-8) to other culturally diverse portrayals of Cinderella, instead of just the stereotypical blonde Caucasian girl.
The book takes its name from the French variant of “Cinderella,” but the story itself is actually set on the Caribbean Island of Martinique (fun fact: Martinique is an overseas region of France!). In his author’s note, San Souci says that his version of the story is loosely based on the French Creole story “Cendrillon,” which itself follows the basic plot of Perrault’s “Cinderella,” perhaps the best-known version of this folk tale, at least in Western circles.
However, San Souci adds plenty of his own details about West Indian culture and dress to the story, which deepens both the tale itself as well as readers’ understanding of Caribbean culture. San Souci also updates the tale by telling it from the first person perspective of the “fairy” godmother, who turns out to be a washerwoman with a magic wand that can only be used to help someone she loves. Kids will enjoy finding other differences between Cendrillon and the more well-know Disney-esque tales, including the single stepsister Vitaline instead of the traditional two, and an embroidered slipper instead of a glass heel. San Souci also embeds French Creole words throughout the text and includes a glossary at the end, providing further opportunities for learning experiences.
Brian Pinkey’s illustrations employ scratchboard, luma dyes, gouache, and oil paints to create a unique and colorful look that will be sure to grab kids’ attention. If Brian Pinkney’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the son of the prolific and Caldecott-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney. Like father, like son: Brian is also a very talented illustrator, and has already secured two Caldecott Honors for himself, as well as numerous other awards. In contrast to some other illustrators that use a more precise technique to create striking scratchboard illustrations (Beth Krommes’ work in A House in the Night comes to mind), Pinkey’s pictures in Cendrillon are full of curving, loose lines that blend naturally with the paint and perfectly capture the hot, lively environment of the Caribbean.
While Cendrillon probably isn’t the definitive Cinderella text to own, this picture book is an excellent addition to any classroom or library that already has the basics and is looking to branch out to more diverse folk tales. This book can be used to introduce young readers to Caribbean culture, as well as to the idea that there are many different versions of every folktale, each of which adds to our understanding of the original story.