10 Multicultural Cinderellas to Captivate Any Little Princess
Is Cinderella a favorite read in your household? Does your little one go gaga for the rags-to-riches theme? Rather than go through the same old tattered version you have at home, pick up a few multicultural retellings for her nightly fix of princessdom. You’ll be exposing her to new people and cultures around the world, and broadening her horizons.
When their best-loved tale is freed from the more familiar version, your children will enjoy the differences between retellings, and better appreciate the differences between their pals at school too. Once you get through these fabulous folktales, your little princess may just be on her way to being her classroom’s expert cultural anthropologist.
By Myma J. de la Paz
Set in the Philippine islands, this fractured fairy tale is filled to the brim with colorful pre-colonial costumes, architecture, and folklore. Abadeha’s step-family is far crueler in this tale than the original. They downright torment and oppress the poor young girl.
Instead of a fairy godmother, Earth Mother and ancestral mystical spirits come to her aid. And when the chieftain’s son falls ill after putting on a magical ring, only Abadeha can remove it. Overall, a nice read with plenty of evocative details.
By Jewell Reinhart Coburn
Where the desert is sun-bleached and dry, Domitila can turn desert weeds into food fit for kings and scraps of leather into works of art. So when her family is unable to make enough money to keep their bellies full, Domitila sets off for the Governor’s House to work.
The Governor’s spoiled and arrogant son, Timoteo, tastes her delicious nopales and feels compelled to meet the girl who has made them. But Domitila has returned home, receiving sad news of her mother’s health. Timoteo sets out to find her but will the wicked Malvina trick him into marrying her daughter instead?
Through textual and visual imagery, little ones will experience ranch life in Hidalgo, Mexico with rich, colorful cultural elements woven into the story. The illustrations are pure magic and include proverbs in both English and Spanish on every page.
By Rebecca Hickox
In this Iraqi retelling, the Cinderella story is woven together with the traditional folktale The Red Fish and the Clod of Gold. The mean stepmother and her cruel sidekick, the dutiful daughter, the elaborate festivities, and the stylish footwear are all central to this version – and ripe with Middle Eastern imagery.
But kindness comes in the form of a magic fish – not a fairy godmother – to make the poor girl’s wishes come true. Illustrations are a real visual treat with soft watercolors depicting beautiful architecture and other traditional elements punctuated with a strategic use of red.
By Jewell Reinhart Coburn
Travel to the high mountain villages of Southeast Asia for this retelling. Joanah’s mother makes the ultimate sacrifice and is willingly transformed into a cow in order to help the family survive. Her father takes a new wife with a cruel and evil daughter. Needless to say, the stepmother feels insulted in having to take second place to a cow, tricks her husband into sacrificing it, and forbids Jouanah from attending the traditional New Year’s celebration.
Luckily, the spirit of Jouanah’s mother provides her with all the finery she needs to make a grand appearance that catches the eye of the Elder’s son. The rest is history.
Jouanah is a wonderful introduction to a little-known culture and works well in the more familiar Cinderella framework. The illustrations are very dreamlike and do a wonderful job of depicting the Blue Hmong clan. The details are all there and the story is very engaging.
By John Steptoe
When an African king sends word that he is to marry, Mufaro sends his two beautiful daughters for consideration. While both girls are unequalled in beauty, Manyara is selfish and rude and Nyasha has a heart of pure gold.
Manyara attempts to ditch her sister to ensure she will be the chosen one. But Nyasha, who is kind to all creatures (including her sister), continues on her journey. What neither sister knows is that the king has taken on various disguises to learn the true nature of the girls as they travel along. And, of course, he chooses Nyasha for her lovely disposition.
Whereas in the traditional fairy tale, Cinderella is pretty much chosen purely on her beauty (does the king really know anything about her?), it’s Nyasha’s character that makes her worthy of being a princess. That message, together with warm, stunning illustrations filled with authentic scenes from Zimbabwe, make this a wonderful book all around.
By Anthony Manna
Life has many unexpected turns. At first, this little Greek girl enjoys living with her kind and tender mother who bathes her in musk-scented water and combs her hair with ivory. But upon her mother’s death, her wicked stepmother counts out her every drop of water! What’s the poor orphan to do? She visits her mother’s grave with a heavy heart and her mother’s spirit tells her to return home where fortune awaits.
And sure enough, Mother Nature bestows her with many gifts: brilliance from the Sun, beauty from the Moon, gracefulness from Dawn, three beautiful dresses from the Meadows, and a pair of blue shoes from the Sea.
Prince Charming hopes to catch the beauty by spreading honey and beeswax on the church steps. But the orphan manages to get away, though without her shoe. The shoe is lost, the girl is found, and the couple lives happily ever after. A lovely story for any Cinderella fan!
Luminous watercolors are absolutely stunning and will draw kids in. Rhymes sprinkled throughout will have them asking for the story again and again.
By Shirley Climo
In this jewel of a tale, Settareh (Star) was named after a star-shaped birthmark on her cheek. But before she has even opened her eyes to see or her mouth to cry, the poor girl has lost her mother. She lives in the female quarters with her stepmother and stepsisters but she has no one and nothing, surviving on her sisters’ cast-off clothes and leftover food.
Still she grows lovelier every day and that infuriates her sisters who ridicule her and her birthmark. When her father gives her a coin to buy clothes for the king’s New Year’s festivities, Settareh happily gives it to a beggar and can only afford a cracked jug instead. To her amazement, it’s inhabited by a fairy, or pari, who helps her find true love in the lush ancient Persian setting.
The plot is full of twists and turns, worthy of one of Scheherzade’s tales and the author provides good insights into Persian culture. The hyper-realistic illustrations are particularly evocative and leap off the page, spellbinding for any child!
By Robert D. San Souci
In this Native American retelling, an Ojibwa man raises three daughters entirely on his own. As to be expected, the two older ones are spoiled, lazy, and mean-spirited. The youngest has to do all the heavy lifting. When the flames from the cooking fire burn her face or her hair, her cruel sisters laugh and call her Sootface.
Meanwhile, a mighty warrior with the power to be invisible has decided to marry. But he will only take a woman with a pure and honest heart – only she will be able to see him. With the help of his sister, he sets out to find his bride. Who will it be?
Once again, this retelling goes beyond simple beauty and places emphasis on virtue instead, making for a more powerful message. The illustrations also do a wonderful job of introducing little ones to the Ojibwa culture with plenty of details on village life, shelter, clothing, hunting, and more.
By Robert D. San Souci
In this Creole take, children will venture into the American South. Two sisters, cruel Rose and kind-hearted Blanche, live in Louisiana. Blanche is, of course, as oppressed as any Cinderella. But her kindness pays off when she helps a hideous old woman with magical powers. The aunty gives her a chicken house full of talking eggs with treasures for good, obedient girls: silver and jewels, dresses, shoes, and even a splendid carriage (not to mention a two-headed cow, square-dancing rabbits, and rainbow chickens!).
Full of colorful, Southern expressions and spectacular scenes, the language in this book sings and the illustrations are gorgeous!
By Ai-Ling Louie
Almost a thousand years older than any European version, this Chinese folktale is a real classic. Children will recognize all the familiar components: a cruel stepmother and a hideous stepsister, an emperor that’s looking to wed, a magical helper, and a lost shoe. But rather than simply receiving gifts like Cinderella, Yeh-Shen must earn them.
The sparse text is incredibly eloquent, and the message divine. Yeh-Shen truly deserves the fortunes she gets. Misty, jewel-toned illustrations will transport any young reader (or listener) to a glorious ancient land.
Do you have a favorite retelling of an old classic? Share your favorite reads with us.
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