CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 12. . . .November 19, 2010.
It's Not About the Pumpkin! (Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales).
Veronika Martenova Charles. Illustrated by David Parkins.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2010.
64 pp., pbk., $7.99.
Children's stories, Canadian (English).
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Deborah Mervold.
On Monday afternoon Lily and Ben went to Jake's house.
"What are you doing?" asked Lily.
"I have to make a picture for school," said Jake. "We're working on the Cinderella story."
"What will you draw?" asked Ben.
"I don't know yet," Jake answered.
"You could draw Cinderella in her pretty dress," said Lily.
"No way! That's boring. I think I'll draw a giant pumpkin," Jake said.
In It's Not About the Pumpkin!, Charles again sets up her stories as told by three children, Lily, Ben and Jake. Jake decides to draw a pumpkin for a school project on Cinderella. The children remember that the fairy godmother gives the pumpkin to Cinderella, and this recollection further reminds them of stories which they tell to one another. They remember Cinderella stories that do not have pumpkins.
The first story, which is told by Lily, is based on the Cinderella story from Europe and is called "Ash Girl." There was a rich man who had a wife and daughter. When his wife dies, he marries a widow with two beautiful daughters who had evil in their hearts. The man's daughter becomes their kitchen maid. She did all the work, and they called her Ash Girl. Every day, the girl cried at her mother's grave. Her tears watered a branch at the grave, and it grew into a hazel tree. A white bird made its home in the tree. When the king announced a masked ball, the two beautiful sisters planned their dresses but refused to take their stepsister when her father asked if his daughter could also attend. The daughter went to her mother's grave and wished she could go. The bird told her to shake the tree and open the first nut that falls. She does as she was told, and she finds a dress and shoes inside the nut. When the tree opens, a coach with horses appears. The bird tells her that she must be home before midnight. This whole process is repeated for a second night and a third. On the third night, the girl forgets to watch the time and runs down the step as the clock strikes midnight. She loses her shoe which the king finds. When he attempts to find the owner, the stepsisters cut off their toes to make the shoe fit. When the king finds the shoe fits the Ash girl, he makes her his queen, and the stepsisters limp for the rest of their lives.
Ben remembers another Cinderella story without a pumpkin. His story is based on a Cinderella story from China, one called "Fish Bones." In this tale, Lin's mother dies, and her father marries a woman who also has a daughter. The woman hates the gentle Lin and sends her on dangerous tasks. On one of these journeys, Lin finds a tiny fish with golden eyes which she takes home and puts in a bowl of water. When the fish grows, she puts it in a pond and feeds it from her own dinner. Her stepsister is jealous and tells the mother that Lin is playing with the fish instead of working. The mother tricks the fish by pretending to be Lin. She kills the fish and eats it. When Lin returns, an old man appears to her. He tells her what her stepmother has done. He says that the fish is magic and that she should gather the bones and ask them whenever she needs something. When the mother and her daughter attend a festival, Lin asks the bones for clothes so she can also attend. She does attend, but, upon hearing her stepmother, she flees. In her flight, she loses a shoe which is found by a villager and sold to the emperor. Lin decides to steal the shoe from the emperor so she can return it to the bones, but she is, instead, caught by the soldiers. When the emperor sees her tiny feet, he says that she must try the shoe on. When the shoe fits, Lin's ragged clothes turn beautiful, and the emperor falls in love and asks her to marry him. During the mother and stepsister's trip to the wedding, they are killed by falling rocks.
The children ask why the stories are about girls who become are married in the end. Jake remembers a Cinderella story with a boy as the main character. The story is called "The Black Cow" and is based on a Cinderella story from India. Following the death of Anil's mother, Anil's father marries a woman with a daughter. The stepmother mistreats Anil by giving him cakes of mud to eat. When Anil is taking the cows to the forest, he begins to cry. One of the cows asks him why he is crying, and Anil tells the cow about his stepmother and his hunger. The cow stamps the ground with its feet and delicious treats appear. Anil shares this food with his stepsister. The stepmother sees Anil getting stronger and thinks that he is drinking the cow's milk. When she learns about the black cow from her daughter, she is angry and tells her husband that he must sell the black cow. When Anil tells the cow it is to be sold, she tells him to get on her back, and they escape into the forest where they remain for a long time. They find a great snake in a hole, and the cow pours milk into the hole to honour the snake. The great snake is pleased and asks the cow what it can do in return. The cow asks for a beautiful suit of clothing for Anil. When Anil is bathing in the river, one of his golden shoes is eaten by a fish. The fish is later caught and sold at the palace. When the fish is cleaned, the shoe falls out and is seen by the princess who asks to see the owner of the shoe. The servants search near the river and find Anil with one shoe. They return with him to the palace where he falls in love with the princess and she with him. After they are married, Anil remembers the black cow and returns to find the cow. They return to the palace, and the princess, Anil and the black cow live happily for many years.
After debating whether this last story is really a Cinderella story, the children decide that it is because of the shoe. They then return to their drawings and decide to draw the great snake from the third story. The division of the book is well done as it provides a framework for the telling of the stories. The book starts and ends with Ben, Lily and Jake who have a reason to think about the stories they remember. The children are realistically portrayed, and the language is age appropriate. It's Not About the Pumpkin! is a good selection for children beginning to read chapter books, and it would also be a good choice for a classroom comparison of the Cinderella theme.
Deborah Mervold is an educator and teacher librarian from Shellbrook, SK. She is presently employed by Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) and works in the areas of faculty training and program development.
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