"This is a reminder of hope and possibility, of kindness and compassion, and--perhaps most salient--imagination and liberty. Through the imaginations of our childhoods, can we find our true selves liberated in adulthood?" --Chelsea Handler In her debut children's book, Rebecca Solnit reimagines a classic fairytale with a fresh, feminist Cinderella and new plot twists that will inspire young readers to change the world, featuring gorgeous silhouettes from Arthur Rackham on each page. In this modern twist on the classic story, Cinderella, who would rather just be Ella, meets her fairy godmother, goes to a ball, and makes friends with a prince. But that is where the familiar story ends. Instead of waiting to be rescued, Cinderella learns that she can save herself and those around her by being true to herself and standing up for what she believes. Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books including Men Explain Things to Me, Call Them by Their True Names, Hope in the Dark, and The Mother of All Questions. Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) was a prominent British illustrator of many classic children's books from The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm to Sleeping Beauty. His watercolor silhouettes were featured in the original edition of Cinderella.
Like any retelling this will have pluses and minuses for each reader. Partly because fairy tales fall into that middle ground, in spite of the whitewashing and "cleaning up" that has culminated with Disney being most associated with them. They were never meant strictly for children, they were meant for both children and adults (the ones who have to repeat them ad nauseam) and, since children weren't quite so coddled when fairy tales were first being told, they weren't all sweetness and bubble gum. So as contemporary readers we tend to lament that they are either to much for the children and don't serve whatever purpose we think they should, or they are too much for the adults and again don't serve the purpose we think they should. Given that, most readers will easily find something to complain about, that is the easy part. Complaining and pointing out flaws has become second nature in contemporary society and often confused for intelligent discourse. So, yes, this book, in places, appeals more to the children (repetition and basic tropes adults grow tired of) and appeals more to adults (clear lessons we might think are important, certain humorous asides). The funny thing is, even those generalizations don't hold because we want lessons there FOR the children whether they notice or enjoy that part, and the repetition, for an adult reading a fairy tale as a fairy tale, the repetition should, for an active reader, take them back to when they were young and enjoyed that aspect of fairy tales. It is part of why we still enjoy reading them to our children.
Having gotten by all the obvious and easy targets for "critique" I really just want to say that if you want a retelling of the Cinderella story that serves as both a bedtime story for small children (this can't realistically be compared, favorably or not, with retellings meant for middle school or older) and a story that gives lessons that are more pertinent to this period in history, this will be a wonderful option for you. If, however, you just want to compare and contrast with real or imagined retellings that aren't even aimed at the same demographic, well, this might make you feel pretty smart, though not likely in the eyes of those you whine to.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via Edelweiss.
in In this version, Cinderella, the Prince, and at least one of the stepsisters come to realize what makes them happiest and are 'liberated' by pursuing a path and life that is fulfilling to them. This is a generous version in which everyone can attain their own version of a happily ever after.
It is refreshingly positive, encouraging and motivating, without being wedded to gender role stereotypes for those who follow the beat of a different drummer OR resorting to bashing conventional perspectives for those who are more traditionally-inclined. If I was curating a small library of things everyone should read at least once, this would be in it. Recommended.