Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Traditional Literature: Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella

Lowell, Susan. 2000. CINDY ELLEN: A WILD WESTERN CINDERELLA. Ill. by Jane Manning. NY: HarperCollins Publishing. ISBN 9780064438643.

Yee haw! It's a Cinderella story... western style! Cindy Ellen, the sweetest and most talented cowgirl in the west, is treated like a ranch hand by her bossy stepmother and is name called by her two lazy stepsisters. But with the help of a fairy godmother who brandishes a golden six-shooter that fires magic fairy dust, she gathers up the guts and the duds, including diamond studded spurs, to attend the cattle king's two-day rodeo and square dance, and ultimately wins the heart of the cowboy Joe Prince. In classic style, after the second night of square dancing Cindy Ellen leaves behind one of her diamond spurs among the cacti as she runs back to the ranch. Throughout the known territory, Joe Prince searches for the mysterious cowgirl and the boot that fits the spur until he comes to Cindy Ellen's father's ranch. With a final fire from the godmother's pistol, everyone lives happily ever after.

Inspired by the classic French Cinderella tale by Charles Perrault, Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella, with its equal combination of Susan Lowell's funny and descriptive story and Jane Manning's colorful watercolor illustrations, is a wonderful fractured version of the Cinderella fairy tale.

With descriptive expressions like "west of the Mississippi" and "It sounded like sliver bells mixed with dynamite," and words like "fandango," "sugarfoot," and "gumption," Lowell, a cowgirl herself, truly captures the essence of being in the Wild West as it gives the characters and story personality, especially in the case of the magic pistol wielding fairy godmother. With such wonderful language the readers are extremely motivated (it would be too hard not to) to read the story aloud with a western or even a Texas accent!

Manning uses her watercolors in various ways to create depth to her artwork. First, for the background the paint and its colors are soft which, realistically represents the dusty desert. In comparison, the foreground's colors are bolder and the overall design of the faces and clothing of he characters, as well as the cacti and the local animal life. Another great element of the illustrations is their perspective. Instead of seeing the illustrations straight on, Manning put every single picture in a different perspective by focusing on a certain element(s) to match the story, for example as the story describes how the Cindy Ellen’s stepmother orders her to work the coordinating illustration shows Cindy Ellen kneeling at the bottom corner of the page nailing a line of barb wire to a fence post with the stepmother looming over here with a stern face and hands on her wide hips taking center stage.

The text and the illustrations equally share the pages of this book. For half of the book, in double-page spread format, one page is entirely dedicated to the artwork and the other page displays the text with a small illustration of a rabbit or stepsister flying in the air after being bucked off a bronco in a negative space. The second of the book, the illustrations take up the entire double-page spread with the text between major elements of the art, such as between the Cindy Ellen and Joe Prince and the fairy godmother.

The final element of Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella that makes this a unique modern fairy tale is the fact that the godmother’s magic is not the only thing that transforms Cindy Ellen. She has to look in herself for what Godmother called “gumption” because “[m]agic is plumb worthless with out [it]” and that what Cindy Ellen needs is “some gravel in your gizzard. Grits! Guts!” (Lowell, p.8).

Wielding a golden pistol, Cindy Ellen's fairy godmother not only conjures up riding clothes and diamond-studded spurs for Cindy, she gives her gumption, and Cindy outrides everyone at the rodeo, winning the heart of the cattle king's son. Expressive regional turns of phrase and exuberant full-color comic illustrations in skewed perspectives place the action squarely in the dry desert of the West. Copyright 2001 of The Horn Book, Inc. (September 1, 2000)

K-Gr 3-Lowell has set another classic tale in a Wild West setting. Cindy Ellen was a rancher's daughter who had a "snaky old stepmother" and two stepsisters who "never did a lick of work all day." She also had lots of gumption and, with the help of some magic and a diamond spur, she "got hitched and lived happily ever after in a ranch house full of love and rodeo trophies." The characters and dialogue are fresh, but remain true to the spirit of the tale, from the fairy godmother with her magic pistols to Joe Prince, a rich rancher's handsome son whom Cindy beats in the rodeo competition one day and charms at the square dance the next evening. The heroine is the very picture of spirited sweetness, with auburn hair, a "daredevil grin," and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose. The text is lengthy for a picture book, but is told in language as lively, colorful, and detailed as the watercolor illustrations, and is a delight to read aloud. An abundance of action combined with humor and high-spirited hyperbole make this a rip-roaring rendition that will hold children's attention all the way to the satisfying, though expected, conclusion. Round up some listeners and have a ball!-Starr LaTronica, Four County Library System, Vestal, NY Copyright 2000 (June 1, 2000)

*Read other Cinderella books that are both the traditional versions (by Perrault and the brother Grimm) like Marcia Brown’s Cinderella and that are fractured like Bubba, The Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman and different cultural versions like The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition by Nina Jaffe.
*Read more books about the rodeo likes Armadillo Rodeo by Jan Brett and about cowgirls and cowboys like Cowboys and Cowgirls: Yippee Yay by Gail Gibbons and Born to Be a Cowgirl: A Spirited Ride Through the Old West by Candace Savage.
*Have fun while reading the book by creating cowboy and cowgirl hats from brown paper bags for the children to wear.

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