There are over 500 versions of Cinderella and I have a feeling we would be covering quite a vast majority of them as we go through our Fractured Fairy tale theme this July and August. This one, however, as created by Robert D. San Souci and David Catrow is surprisingly fresh and grotesquely delightful, it appeals to the macabre in me. I love it. I knew that we could not let our bimonthly theme pass without me featuring this book.
A Fractured Fairytale in Rhyme. Ever since I received Holly Thompson’s Orchards, I am fascinated by narratives that are purely in verse (I have yet to read Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust which was loaned to me by a very dear friend). It came as a pleasant surprise to read a picture book purely in verse that does not sound lilting, juvenile, or with a feel-good, sunshiny-rainbows-and-lollipops kind of vibe. Far from it:
Cinderella Skeleton Was everything a ghoul should be: Her build was long and lean and lank; Her dankish hair hung down in hanks; Her nails were yellow; her teeth were green - The ghastliest haunt you’ve ever seen. Foulest in the land was she.
Riveting, isn’t it. To be described with such grisly gusto, she must be quite a sight.
Robert San Souci has also described in a brief essay how the entire notion of Cinderella Skeleton came to him – his motivations and inspiration – and how it came to be in verse:
The idea for the book came to me when I happened to see one of those hand-painted motorcycle jackets that had a wonderful skeletal figure on the back. I think it was dressed as the World War I flying ace, the Red Baron-wearing an old-fashioned helmet with a red streamer. As I was walking along, I started to think of how much fun it would be to blend my love of things “ghostly, ghastly” with picture books. Envisioning some of my favorite stories recast in Halloween terms led me to my favorite tale, “Cinderella,” and, eventually, to the phrase “Cinderella skeleton.” It had a nice internal rhyme and a rhythm that quickly began to suggest a pattern for poetry. A first draft of this “fractured fairy tale” came together in a matter of days. (source here)
The Underworld has Evil Stepmothers/Stepsisters (and indifferent henpecked fathers too). In keeping with Cinderella’s lowly status, things apparently do not improve in the afterlife. Makes one think that perhaps everything that is happening is doomed to happen yet again and again in an endless infinite loop (similar to how our sense of fashion go back in a tiresome circuitous manner).
While there are parallels, there are clear divergences as well. The stepsisters remain evil, along with the vile and vain stepmother (where would fairy princesses be without a wicked stepmom). The divergences though are in keeping with the whole deliciously-moribund theme: (1) a witch for a grandmotherly, absentminded fairy godmother (come to think of it, exactly how different are they: witch – fairy godmother – sounds the same to me)
(2) Cinderella’s task around the house does not entail scrubbing the furniture and the floors clean – rather, she is tasked to hang up cobwebs, arrange dead flowers in a vase and litter the floor with dust and leaves (not to forget the feeding of the bats beneath the eaves) (3) Cinderella still managed to travel in style, yes – but not your boring old coach with the handsome steed – she had a funeral wagon and nightmares which are part-horse and part dragon at her disposal – how fantabulous! (4) Cinderella did not just leave her glass slipper behind – her bony foot came off with a snap. How’s that for a change?
There are more, but this could be a task that you and your children (or students) can tease out as you read the book together.
Teacher Resources and Links. I found a few links that teachers or parents can use as this book is shared with young children. A teacher guide has been prepared by Scholastic here - it includes suggested activities and tasks that could be done before and after reading the book. This link, on the other hand is prepared by Mary Beth Duncan for Collegelivetext and it includes activities that could be shared with second graders.
Robert D. San Souci is the award-winning author of numerous books for children. He was born in San Francisco and still lives in what he calls as “The City by the Bay.” Most of his books are retellings of traditional tales which celebrate the diversity of peoples and places across the globe. If you wish to know more about him and his works, this is his official website.
David Catrow is the illustrator of numerous notable books for children and I absolutely enjoyed the way that he described himself in his website:
I have worn all kinds of hats. Big ones, little ones, motorcycle
helmets, chef hats, train conductor hats, baseball caps, red hats, blue hats, fireman helmets, surgeons caps, green and yellow striped hats, a Davy Crockett hat with a long bushy stripped tail going down my back. Maybe even a pot or pan if I’m in the mood. I have worn hats with feathers and strange contraptions and hats I find in the attic. Sometimes I wear more than one hat at a time and people will stare at me like I have two heads. Every day I get to wear the hats of the characters I create because I am a children’s book illustrator (source here).
Click here to be taken to David Catrow’s official website and learn more about his works.
Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci and Illustrated by David Catrow. Silver Whistle/Harcourt, Inc. Florida, 2000. Book borrowed from the community library.