To see the downtrodden lifted up, for a moment or for happily ever after, is food for the soul. We cheer for their good fortune. To see hope realized is a necessity.
A perennial favorite fairy tale, in all its variations, is of the orphan bullied by spoiled sisters and their haughty mother. Who better to retell the tale than Jan Brett in Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., November 5, 2013) Let's open the cover stepping into a wintry Russia of the eighteenth century.
Snow on the outside, feathered friends on the inside.
At the end of every day Tasha takes a meal of oats to the chickens housed in the old tower. Tonight it's hard for her to get there; a fierce blizzard is throwing wind and snow in all directions. Finally out of the weather, three chickens, Largessa and her daughters, Pecky and Bossy, push their way forward to get most of the food.
Tasha brings Cinders out from beneath the wood stove where she hides. With Cinders in her arms, Tasha feeds here. Snow has drifted against the door, leaving Tasha with no choice but to stay in the tower for the night until her father returns tomorrow.
Lulled by the cozy comfort found next to the stove in the chickens' tower, Tasha falls asleep. Within seconds a golden light appears in the room. The chickens' lives are about to take a flight of fancy. There is an invitation to the Ice Palace by Prince Cockerel himself.
Cinders is at the peck and cackle of Largessa, Pecky and Bossy as they preen and dress for the ball. After everyone leaves clothed in their finest gowns, Cinders is dismayed by her appearance and lack of anything to wear. Her tears are interrupted by an unexpected light and the appearance of a Silkie hen. Ah yes...a wand-waving fairy god-chicken has arrived to set things right.
A pumpkin, pigeons, mice and three ducks will serve as a sleigh, footmen, drivers and pullers taking Cinders dressed in a silver sarafan dress and slippers of crystal to the Prince's Ice Palace. Cinders' arrival causes quite the stir among the gathered fowl. Prince Cockerel is bewitched by her beauty.
The ice clock's chiming signals the breaking of the spell. As dawn breaks on a new day, a crystal slipper, a shining egg, and an arrival complete not one but two stories. On full moon nights you can never be quite sure what you might see or hear; perhaps magic will pay a visit.
One of the more unique qualities of this retelling by Jan Brett is having the Cinderella story told within the context of Tasha's love for her chicken friends. It's only when she sleeps we readers see the chickens' other lives. Alternating between a narrative and dialogue, Brett weaves a spell with her words like the Silkie does with her wand. We are surrounded by the wonder of the events unfolding. Here is a passage from the story.
The snow stopped and the moon shone a path through the window.
The chickens dressed in all their finery flew off to the Ice Palace.
All except Cinders. She looked down at her wet feathers and frayed
wing tips and started to cry.
Suddenly, the log in the stove flared. Into the light flew
a beautiful Silkie hen Cinders had never seen before.
"I'm here to get you ready for the ball," the Silkie promised,
and she brushed Cinders with her wand.
Jan Brett is known for visiting the place of her settings, to make sure everything, down to the tiniest detail, is authentic. She and her husband, Joe, did indeed travel to St. Petersburg to become immersed in the architecture. Unfolding the jacket and cover Cinders, riding in her sleigh is drawn through the snowy eighteenth-century Russian forest framed in white panels on the front as the Silkie hen wearing a glittering gown waves her sparkling wand framed in elegant scrollwork, cultural folk art and a wintry landscape on the back. Endpapers in a brushed golden rose feature Cinders looking like she has been carved from wood surrounded by embellishments.
All the illustrations for this title are rendered in watercolor and gouache, spreading across two pages with a few exceptions. Readers will be dazzled by the four page gatefold of the dancers at the ball. The dark of night, the white of winter and the vibrant colors used for all the pictures inside contrast in a glorious array. As readers have come to expect, Jan Brett adds to her story in the side panels giving us hints of the tale's path. Intricate details on all the pages will have readers pausing and marveling at her skill, her love of art and storytelling. I think one of my favorite illustrations is the outside of the Ice Palace with Silkie peering inside at the ball, right before the gatefold.
I highly recommend you add Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella written and illustrated by Jan Brett to your folktale collection, no matter how many variants you currently hold. This depiction is simply lovely in word and pictures. It will be a pleasure to share with one or many listeners. Of course, I'm wondering if she still tucks Hedgie into her books. I'll go back to look again and again.
Please follow the link embedded in Jan Brett's name to access her official website. This links to her 2014 calendar based upon Cinders. For a special page to color of Cinders follow this link.