Many years ago when I was reviewing children’s books for the Los Angeles Times, I was approached by a producer who wanted to do a series for PBS centered on Cinderella stories. The series never materialized but in the process of investigating the proposal, I discovered many different Cinderella stories from all over the world. Since then, I have eagerly read any new book that centers on that traditional story. This new title by Rebecca Solnit presents a much-needed lively and thoughtfully updated version of the familiar fairy tale.
Cinderella Liberator is an intriguing reworking of the story with delicious variations that give the familiar tale a new sparkle. Instead of pining by the fire wishing for a Prince to rescue her, Solnit’s Cinderella takes an active part in the story. First she asks for help and her fairy godmother appears and engages Cinderella in participating in the magic. She picks a big orange pumpkin for the coach from the garden “as heavy as she could lift.” Then the fairy godmother says, “Now, …: We need a coachwoman.” Cinderella replies, “I will get the rat trap.” The large, grey rat in the trap becomes a coachwoman with gray curls in a beautiful white velvet suit with a velvet hat …”
Prince Nevermind and Cinderella don’t marry, but instead share their dreams and find ways to make them happen. Cinderella wants to own her own cake shop because she loves to bake. The Prince longs to be a farmer. Both of them share a dream of wanting friends. With some effort those dreams come true with a little help from the fairy godmother.
The satisfying ending has a twist on the original tale, “Cinderella runs a cake shop, and sometimes she sits with the people who come to eat cake and drink a cup of tea and asks them what their dreams are, or what they would be if they could be anything they wanted to be, …”
Solnit writes, “Everyone can be a fairy godmother if they help someone who needs help, …” Cinderella fulfills that fairy godmother role. “Sometimes children running away from the wars in other kingdoms come to town, hungry and frightened and alone. Cinderella finds them, feeds them, and put them in bed in her attic until she finds other homes for them and gets them started in school. … She isn’t a fairy godmother, but she doesn’t need magic to be a liberator —to be someone who helps others figure out how to be free.”
This is Solnit’s first book for children. She is the author of more than twenty books that range in topics from feminism, to social change and insurrection and other varied issues. She tells this tale with flair and droll humor. When Cinderella returns from the ball the fairy godmother asks her if she had a good time. Cinderella replies, “Yes, and No, and It was very interesting to see all the fancy clothes and fancy plates with fancy cakes and the fancy mirrors and the fancy lights. And then she said, It was even more interesting to see lizards become footmen and mice become horses.”
Solnit selected the hundred year old silhouettes from Arthur Rackham’s 1919 edition of Cinderella and the 1920 edition of Sleeping Beauty to enrich her updated version of the familiar tale. Don’t miss the Afterword which gives pertinent information. -Recommended by Marilyn Carpenter, Professor Emeritus, Eastern Washington University.
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Illustrator: Arthur Rackham
Publisher: Haymarket Books
PubDate: May 7, 2019
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