One-Minute Book Reviews

April 18, 2009

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo! The Case for ‘Cinderella’ (Including, Yes, the Disney Version) — Classics Every Child Should Read

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:46 pm
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The latest in a series of posts on classic children’s picture books

Walt Disney’s Cinderella: A Little Golden Book Classic. Story adapted by Jane Werner. Illustrated by Retta Scott Worcester. Golden Books, 24 pp., $2.99.

By Janice Harayda

For several decades, the story of Cinderella has been anything but a Cinderella story. Scholars have attacked it for promoting female passivity, for giving stepmothers a bad name, and for equating beauty with virtue: The pretty Cinderella is good and her ugly stepsisters are bad. I read a critique that accused it of promoting capitalist values because – at least in the Disney the version, the one most familiar today — Cinderella is rewarded for the hard work of scrubbing floors and churning butter, as though we’d want the kids to read books where characters were rewarded for sloth.

There’s some truth to the all complaints. Variations on Cinderella have existed for centuries or more, and they typically reflect ideals of an earlier time. But if I had children, I’d want them to know this tale of a mistreated girl who marries a king’s son, and not just because it’s a defining myth of our age. The case against Cinderella was stronger in the past. If the story is one of female passivity — that of a girl rescued by a prince — it used to reflect the expectations of society as a whole.

Those assumptions have changed. Girls today see more countervailing influences to Cinderella — the tortured marriage of Charles and Diana showed us all what can happen when you marry a prince — so there seems to be less harm in reading it. There are also more benefits when surveys of cultural literacy have shown that children are increasingly growing up without understanding the ideas that have shaped civilizations – not just fairy tales but myths, legends, fables, Bible stories, and more.

As a child, I loved an oversized tie-in edition to the 1950 animated Disney musical Cinderella — “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”! – and read it until its corrugated pop-up pumpkin fell off. A few weeks ago, I was startled to find Walt Disney’s Cinderella in a Little Golden Book Classic format in the new-children’s-books section of a good bookstore. No pop-up pumpkin, but everything else is identical. No less surprising is that the Little Golden Book Classic is better than many recent editions, including some others from Disney, in part because its cover shows Cinderella in rags near a brick fireplace, which makes the meaning of the title clear right away. Some versions have a princess on the cover that dilutes the message and make the book look like just another princess fantasy, instead of the mother lode.

I’m sure that at the age of seven, I liked my Disney version partly because its Cinderella has blond hair and blue-green eyes like me (which plays into stereotypes of the fair-haired as virtuous, given that one of her stepsisters has black hair and another red). But today you can find a United Nations of Cinderella stories at bookstores and libraries, and they have title characters of varied ancestry: Jewish, Persian, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Caribbean, Hispanic, Cambodian, Egyptian, Alaskan, Hmong. And if some of these still seem to be a font of stereotypes, they make clear it would be more accurate to call Cinderella something else: an archetype who has never lost her appeal.

Best line: Some modern versions of Cinderella don’t explain how the title character got her name. The Little Golden Book Classic does: “But alas! The kindly gentleman soon died. And his second wife was harsh and cold to her lovely stepdaughter. She cared only for her two ugly stepdaughters.

“Everyone called the stepdaughter Cinderella now since she sat by the cinders to keep warm as she worked hard, dressed only in rags.”

Worst line: Cinderella had “a puppy named Bruno” before her father died.  The name “Bruno” is odd in context. And the dog probably shouldn’t have a name at all, because it’s used only twice, and an old horse (which becomes a coachman) and the mice (which turn into horses) don’t have names.

Published: 1950

Listen to the song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Walt Disney’s Cinderella on a site that doesn’t include a film clip from the movie. You can also hear it on YouTube sites that include a clip, but these may not be legal.

Other classic picture books reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews include Millions of Cats, Madeline, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Where the Wild Things Are, The Backward Day, Horton Hatches the Egg, The Story of Ferdinand and Flat Stanley.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 27, 2008

Why Read the Classics? (Quote of the Day / Michael Dirda)

Why is it important to read the classics? Michael Dirda, who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism as a staff critic for the Washington Post, responds in his Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education: Essays on Great Writers and Their Books (Norton, 2005):

“People sometimes ask teachers or critics, ‘Which books should I read to become educated?’ The short answer is either ‘As many as you can’ or ‘A small handful that you study to pieces.’ But a better question might be this one: ‘Which books should I read first?’

“The answer to that is ‘The great patterning works of world literature and culture, the poems and stories that have shaped civilization.’

“Without a knowledge of the Greek myths, the Bible, ancient history, the world’s folktales and fairy tales, one can never fully understand the visual arts, most opera, and half the literature of later ages. Homer tells us about Ulysses in The Odyssey; then Dante, Tennyson, James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, and Eudora Welty add to, enrich, and subvert that story in great works of their own. The classics are important not because they are old but because they are always being renewed.”

Michael Dirda’s most recent book is Classics for Pleasure (Harcourt, 2007).

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 8, 2008

An Interactive Map of Storybook England for Children — Another Reason Why U.K. Tourist Services Are Better Than Ours

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:30 pm
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An interactive map of storybook England shows places associated with Alice, Black Beauty, Harry Potter and other famous characters

One of the great pleasures of visiting Britain is that the government hires a lot of people who can help you find your way around instead of doing what we do here in the U.S., which is to tell visitors: “You want information about our country? Pray for a taxi driver who speaks English.” Pause. “If that fails, you could always ask the person who mugs you.”

Many of the helpful Brits work for the tourist boards Visit Britain www.visitbritain.com, Visit Scotland www.visitscotland.com and Visit Wales www.visitwales.com. And some of them came up with a great interactive online map of England that lets children learn about places linked to characters in books like Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series.

I learned about this delightful storybook map from Ceri Radford, who wrote in her blog about books in the Telegraph: “You can browse by book title, then click to find out more about the work and its location. Kudos to Enjoy England, the marketing arm of Visit Britain, for coming up with the idea.” You can read more about it here blogs.telegraph.co.uk/arts/ceriradford/dec07/.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 27, 2008

Coming Saturday — A Review of ‘The Bearskinner’ by Laura Amy Schlitz and Max Grafe

Laura Amy Schlitz proved that she could capture the attention of ages 10 and up with her novel A Drowned Maiden’s Hair and her cycle of one- and two-person plays, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, winner of the 2008 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association. But can she write for younger children? On Saturday One-Minute Book Reviews will review her recent picture book, The Bearskinner, a retelling of a tale by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Max Grafe.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 5, 2007

Deeper Into ‘The Garden of Abdul Gasazi’ and Other Magical Realms: Perry Nodelman’s ‘Words About Pictures’

How do the pictures relate to the words in children’s books? Do they clarify the text? Do they complete it? Or do they do something else, such as moving the text forward?

Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman explores these and other questions in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (University of Georgia Press, $22.95, paperback) www.ugapress.uga.edu, perhaps the best book in print on how pictures relate to stories in children’s books. Nodelman deals at least in passing with hundreds of well-known picture books. But he pays special attention to 14 that have helped to define the field, including Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/31/, Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/, Chris Van Allsburg’s The Garden of Abdul Gasazi www.chrisvanallsburg.com and Paul Heins’s Snow White, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Nodelman’s central argument – developed with skill and insight — is that it’s a mistake to view picture books like though the narrow lens of their moral, ideological or educational correctness. Rather, he says, they are a serious art form that deserves the respect we give to others.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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