Many of us in the US are heading out for the start of the summer holidays this weekend. And what better thing to pack than a good book, especially if that book transports us to a land far away and to a time long, long ago…
Title: Cinderella of the Nile
Written By: Beverley Naidoo
Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaeian
Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8 or older
Themes/Topics: fairy tale; #ReadYourWorld; #OneStoryManyVoices; kindness; love
Long, long ago when pirates roamed the seas around Greece, a beautiful baby girl was born in a village to the north. She had eyes like sapphires and fine red curls. The happy parents, who had waited many years for this child, called her ‘Rhodopis’ because her cheeks were so rosy.
In this retelling of an early Greek version of the Cinderella story, a kind-hearted young girl is transported to a land far from home. There she toils as a slave, until a new owner treats her as a daughter and gifts her red slippers, and a wife-seeking pharaoh falls in love with her.
Links to Resources:
- Rhodopis traveled from northern Greece, to an island, to Egypt along the Nile River. Trace her journey on a map of the eastern Mediterranean Sea;
- Read one or more of the Cinderella stories listed below. How are they the same? What’s different?
- In a forward, One Story, Many Voices, Naidoo writes that “tales change when they are told and retold” as that is the “freedom of the storyteller.” Write your own Cinderella story.
Why I Like this Book:
Like many other young and not-so-young readers, I love fairy tales. I especially love seeing how versions differ across regions and eras, even as the story themes remain the same.
In Cinderella of the Nile, I found several aspects of the storyline that differed from the popular version of my youth. For instance, this story lacks an evil stepmother and a fairy godmother. Instead, Rhodopis begins life with loving parents in a simple village in northern Greece where she herds goats. Then, pirates kidnap her and she enters a life where slave traders and owners determine her fate. Interestingly, she starts life in Europe and ends up as a slave in Africa – opposite to the slave route that most slaves endured, and opposite to the route that many refugees and migrants now travel. The inclusion of piracy, slavery and the reversal of this route will, I think, lead to thought-provoking discussions, especially with older children.
In lieu of a fairy godmother, Naidoo includes a well-known storyteller/philosopher, Aesop, who befriends Rhodopis and counsels her to “bend, not break” when faced with difficulties. That and her kindness to various creatures lead to her meeting, and union with, the princely pharaoh.
The themes of Cinderella, the power of kindness, adapting to one’s circumstances, and love, shine through in Cinderella of the Nile. I think children also will enjoy seeing how this tale features characters of varying skin tones and ethnicities, how a noted storyteller, Aesop, plays a role in the outcome, and how kindness to all creatures benefits Cinderella, even without the flick of a magic wand or the transformation of a pumpkin into a carriage.
Vafaeian’s colorfully rich illustrations not only complement but complete Naidoo’s retelling. With her “fine red curls,” Rhodopis is a focal point of every illustration, standing out even among the vibrant flora and fauna that fill every page.
I also love that Cinderella and her pharaoh are an interracial couple, as shown in the last gorgeous spread.
A Note about Craft:
Cinderella of the Nile is the first of Tiny Owl Publishing’s One Story, Many Voices series, which showcases the universality of fairy tale themes as evident in many similar stories told by “voices from around the world” that reflect the circumstances of particular times and places. How would you rewrite the Cinderella story, or some other favorite fairy tale, to reflect where and when you live or to better include people like yourself?
Cinderella of the Nile was named one of 10 picture books that promote empathy by book reviewer Mamma Filz. A reviewer in The Telegraph noted how this Cinderella overcame adversity “without a fairy godmother or a fancy frock.”
Read Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story and Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella to see how this story changes at differing times and places, even as its themes remain universal.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!