Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cinderella: The Graphic Novel Retold by Beth Bracken (Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins)

Published in 2009
Traditional Literature

Cinderella: The Graphic Novel retold by Beth Bracken is another modern day version of this classic fairy tale that, I believe, would be enjoyed by all ages. The book is based primarily on Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's version of Cinderella (Ashputtle). It opens with a "Cast of Characters" and, at first, seems as if it will read more like a play than a typical graphic novel or book: The evil stepsisters, the evil stepmother, the prince, the fairy godmother, and of course Cinderella, all appear in the story; however, Cinderella goes by the name Ella in this version.

Unlike some versions, Cinderella's father actually appears in this story, and there are panels where Cinderella visits her mother's grave when she is sad and lonely. One scene, in particular, contrasts Cinderella and her stepmother and stepsisters' character. When Cinderella's father announces he is going to the city and asks what he should bring home for his wife and daughters, her stepmother says, "Dresses! As many as you can fit into your carriage!" The stepsisters, in turn, request, "Jewels! As many jewels as you can fit into your pockets!" Cinderella simply asks her father to bring him the first twig that knocks against his hat on his way home (Bracken 10).

Several "miserable" days later Cinderella's father returns home bearing gifts for his wife and two newest daughters and a hazel twig for his dear Cinderella. The evil stepsisters make fun of Cinderella because of her simple request, but when she plants the twig on her mother's grave, it grows into a "handsome" tree that buds with leaves and becomes a home to many kinds of birds, which later play a significant role in the story.

When the king issues a proclamation that there will be a ball, Cinderella's evil stepmother makes a deal with her. She dumps a bowl of seeds into the ashes of their fireplace and explains to Cinderella that she may go to the ball only if she completes the "impossible" task of picking every seed out of the ashes and placing them back into the bowl. Realizing she will not be able to complete the task, Cinderella rushes to the tree on her mother's grave and pleas with the birds nesting in its branches to help her.

Miraculously, the birds complete the task, but Cinderella's evil stepmother still won't allow her to attend the ball. Similar to other versions of this classic fairy tale, Cinderella's fairy godmother comes to the rescue, and Cinderella does attend the ball. The prince falls in love with her immediately, and they dance for hours. At the stroke of midnight, Cinderella, once again, loses a glass slipper as she flees the scene. In this story, however, it is not a duke who searches for the mysterious maiden; it is the prince himself. We all know how the story ends. Ella and the prince marry and live happily ever after.  However, in a unique twist to the ending of this version, Cinderella's stepsisters are punished for their wickedness in a humorous way. Her stepmother yells, "Run!" as her stepsisters are chased into the distance by Cinderella's protectors, the birds.

The illustrations are what make this version of Cinderella truly unique. They appear in a mixture of light and dark brown colors, with light shades of brown gradually becoming darker as the colors bleed out to the ends
Inside Panel
of each page and panel. The colors represent a sad, ominous tone to the story. The cover is another indication of this sad tone. Cinderella and her stepsisters' appear with their eyes closed and looking down; however, there is a tiny glimpse of hope. Cinderella is placed in the forefront, and there is a tall stick with a bird sitting on it that separates Cinderella from her evil stepsisters.

Also, the background scenes where Cinderella is seen attending the ball are bright white, signifying this joyful occasion in Cinderella's otherwise "miserable" life. Although this comic book version of this classic fairy tale is unusual and may seem strange at first, it grows on the reader as the story unfolds. The unique twists and turns in this version make it quite interesting.

At the end of the book, Bracken provides a section about the author and illustrator, a glossary, a brief history of the story of Cinderella, as well as discussion questions and writing prompts that would be helpful to any teacher who chooses to use this book in the classroom.

I believe readers of all ages would enjoy reading this version of Cinderella. I sure did!

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