Sunday, December 2, 2007

Multicultural Fairy Tales

We’ve always known that fairy tales came from many different cultures, but somehow Disney has managed to make every familiar fairy tale seem Caucasian and European in descent. Two of my new favorite fairy tales bring other cultures and races back into the fairy tale tradition where they belong.
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal
By Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry Holt, 2007

This picture book is like none I have ever seen. Paul Fleischman takes Cinderella stories from 17 countries and weaves them into one. Each story contributes a paragraph, or a few lines, but the story continues, moving from version to version. The illustrations are done with the same style, in an almost tapestry-like story telling style. However, each culture’s unique flavor is represented in the paintings, just like in the story itself. The illustrations contain the name of the culture or country of origin.
In some cases, Fleischman shows off several versions on one page. For instance, he refers to Cinderella’s beautiful gown as a “sarong make of gold” (Indonesia), a “cloak sewn of king-fisher feathers” (China), and “ a kimono red as sunset” (Japan). Her footwear is “a pair of glass slippers” (France), “diamond anklets” (India), “sandals of gold” (Iraq).
For children in our American society who only know the Disney version of Cinderella, this is a book that will broaden their horizons and their interpretation of the Cinderella story.

Little Red Riding Hood
Retold and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown, 2007

I spotted this picture book retelling of Little Red Riding Hood on a recent trip to a used bookstore. It was in perfect condition, and obviously wasn’t very used since it was just published this fall. I knew as soon as I saw the illustrations, I wanted to buy the book. Jerry Pinkney’s detail in his illustrations is second to none. I purchased his version of Noah’s Ark for my daughter when it first came out.

The story itself is very close to the Grimm Brothers version—including the woodcutter cutting open the wolf who had swallowed the grandmother. Some children’s versions I have read have not included this gruesome detail, but I like that Pinkney kept this detail.

Pinkney has made his Little Red Riding Hood an African American girl. What makes this unique is that the story is still true to the Grimms’ version. Other versions I have read with non-Caucasian Red Riding Hoods have also been different versions of the tales (for example, Lon Po Po by Ed Young). Pinkney’s retelling and illustrations would make an excellent addition to any fairy tale collection.

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