Retellings of the Cinderella story abound, but if you thought it was impossible to find a fresh adaptation, you're in for a delightful surprise. Famed British children's author and illustrator Shirley Hughes has marshaled her considerable talents to create a charming and original Cinderella tale in her new picture book, Ella's Big Chance.
Originally published in Great Britain, the book has already won the 2004 Kate Greenaway Medal for distinguished illustration in a children's book and is now being released in this country, where it's certain to become a favorite. The book, in fact, feels decidedly American, capturing all the style and flavor of the jazz age. Ella works with her father, Mr. Cinders, in his little dress shop, where she coaxes silks, woolens and satins into coats and dresses for their rich clientele.
With her sturdy build and short red curls, Ella is decidedly different from the traditional "Disneyesque" heroine—and from the two fashionable stepsisters who soon join the family. Inevitably, while Ruby and Pearl loll around and model dresses for customers, Ella must work harder than ever, with only an old gray cat and her friend Buttons for consolation. And when the invitation to attend a grand ball in honor of the Duke of Arc arrives, Ella is, of course, left out.
Ella's fairy godmother, a stylish lady with a purple umbrella, comes to the rescue, transforming Ella into a beauty in a silver gown and tiny silk hat. In the ball scenes, where Ella captures the heart of the Duke, you can almost hear the music and the light feet of the dancers. These scenes, notes Hughes, were inspired by the dance sequences in old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies; the dresses have their origins in the French designers of the 1920s, including Doucet, Poiret and Patou.
While these details may be of little interest to young readers, they are sure to be captivated by what happens when Ella returns home, leaving one glass slipper behind. Ella's choice, and her future, reminds us once again that laughter and fun are not only the province of princesses.
Deborah Hopkinson's newest book, Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, follows the life of a young garment worker in New York City in 1909. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Spring
This 1920s version of the fairy tale features exquisitely drawn flapper fashions and a down-to-earth heroine, Ella Cinders, who declines the duke's proposal for a less ritzy but more fulfilling future with her delivery-boy sweetheart, Buttons. As usual, the attention to detail in Hughes's ink and gouache art lends an appealing concreteness to her fully imagined settings. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 October #1
Few illustrators could so stylishly dress up the tale of Cinderella with the dash and glitter of the roaring '20s as Hughes has done here with aplomb. Ella and her father, Mr. Cinders, are fashionable dressmakers who run a shop with the help of Buttons, a young man who serves as doorman and delivery boy. When Mr. Cinders remarries a woman with two daughters, happy days are over, as Madame Renee takes over the shop, Ruby and Pearl model the clothes, and all three treat Ella spitefully. The anticipated transformation takes place; a Mary Poppins-like Fairy Godmother taps her umbrella, turning cat into chauffeur and Buttons's delivery bike into limo. The ball scenes (inspired by Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies), sparkle and the surprise ending is a cunning twist. The book design is also stylish, with text in boxed rectangles with petite ancillary black-and-white drawings underscoring the drama. Hughes has added shimmer to her familiar pen-and-gouache style and elegantly fashioned a delightful, revisionist fairy tale. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 November #3
British author Hughes (the Olly and Me series) updates a classic with flapper fashions and an unexpected finish. Red-haired Ella Cinders and her father run their own dress shop, along with their delivery man, Buttons. When Mr. Cinders remarries Madame Renâ€še (who "seemed to pop up from nowhere like a sharp-eyed, expensively dressed jack-in-the-box"), Ella's life takes a miserable turn as she endures the taunts of her lazy stepsisters, and Mr. Cinders gets "far too much under his wife's thumb to interfere." The length of this jaunty, if sometimes clicheed, retelling, as well as some of the vocabulary ("languid," "divan") and British colloquialisms may prove daunting to a younger audience. However, Hughes's fluid lines and bright colors contribute to illustrations with such graceful movement that they might have been inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's movies, as well as by 1920s French couture. Pen-and-inks ornament each framed block of text, and depict either a preceding or subsequent scene to the action shown in the larger full-color illustrations. Most of the tale stays true to the original, but a twist at the end may well leave readers admiring the sprightly heroine in Hughes's version. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.