Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Egyptian Cinderella

The Egyptian Cinderella

By:  Shirley Climo
Illustrated by:  Ruth Heller
Published:  Harper Collins 1989

According to the author in the author's note, "the tale of Rhodopis and the rose-red slippers is one of the world's oldest Cinderella stories.  It was first recorded by the Roman historian Strabo in the first century B.C.  The story is both fact and fable."  

This version of Cinderella although has many parallels from the version we are most familiar with is also very different.  Rhodopis was stolen from her home in Greece and taken to Egypt where she was sold as a slave.  While there Rhodopis was treated poorly by the servant girls because she looked so different from them with her green eyes, tangled hair, and pale skin.  Rhodopis was friendly with all the animals and would dance for them.  One day her master saw her dancing and gave her a gift of rose-red slippers.  This only made the servant girls more envious of her and made her stay behind while they went to see the Pharaoh.  While they were gone Rhodopis took off her slippers to wash and a falcon, the symbol of the god Horus snatched her slipper. The slipper was dropped on the Pharaoh who saw this as a sign and went in search all around Egypt for the girl who is would fit.  In true Cinderella fashion the slipper would only fit Rhodopis and he made her his queen.  

Climo writes a great version of Cinderella just as she has written many versions of Cinderella based on specific countries tales.  Her writing style is moves the reader along and with beautiful details tells the story.  I could almost imagine a story teller long ago orally telling me this story.  I also like how she adds the author's note in the back of the book to give some history and insight about the story.  She also tells the changes she made in the story from the original such as changing the eagle to a falcon.   I find this story to be interesting as there are so many differences to the Cinderella we know and love.  It was interesting to me that she was treated differently by servants and that there was so much emphasis put on the fact that she looked different. This is actually one of the first things I thought about while reading this book.  This could lead to a conversation with little children about how we treat people that are different than ourselves.   The illustrations are also beautifully done it what looks like watercolor painting.  The illustrations are full bleed and with vibrant colors to offset the striking black hair of the Egyptian people.  Rhodopis features are also done well as to create a striking difference between herself and the servants.

After reading the story and writing my review, I was very curious about the exact truth behind this story as well as the accuracy of the Egyptian culture that is depicted.  I think this is a great story to compare/contrast different Cinderella stories but without doing more research on Egyptian culture I am not sure it would be good to use as multicultural literature. I did find one review from Ann Macy Roth,  from Howard University completed for Africa Access and she did not seem to think it would be great to use as multicultural literature she states, "the story has nothing to do with Egyptian history or Egyptian legends and stories, and thus has nothing to teach children about Egypt."  "While the illustrations do show a in a stylized way the dress and landscape of Egypt, their inaccuracies outweigh their value."  Interestingly she also brings up the point about the discrimination depicted.   You can read more of her review here.  I also found many very similar versions of The Egyptian Cinderella that were all very similar to Climo's.  So accurate or not it is a story that is repeated and possibly passed down making it exactly what it is a great story and I think one to still read for it's fairy tale quality and contrast to other stories.  

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