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How do the plot and setting of Cinderella change as it is translated into a different culture? What elements of the Cinderella story are universal?
- variations on the story of Cinderella from around the world and different times
- Learning Objectives
- List essential plot characteristics of a Cinderella tale
- Provide examples of variations in plot and setting among Cinderella tales
- Write a narrative—a Cinderella variation—with a plot appropriate to the genre and an original setting
- Creative writing
- Critical analysis
- Critical thinking
- Fairy tale analysis
- Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
- Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
- The following background information on Cinderella tales comes from an essay by Mary Northrup entitled Multicultural Cinderella Stories, available on the website of the American Library Association.
The story of Cinderella, perhaps the best-known fairy tale, is told or read to children of very young ages. But Cinderella is not just one story; more than 500 versions have been found—just in Europe! The tale's origins appear to date back to a Chinese story from the ninth century, "Yeh-Shen." Almost every culture seems to have its own version, and every storyteller his or her tale. Charles Perrault is believed to be the author, in the 1690s, of our "modern" 300-year-old Cinderella, the French Cendrillon.
Famous children's writers and illustrators have interpreted Cinderella, including Arthur Rackham, Marcia Brown (her version won the Caldecott Medal in 1955), Nonny Hogrogian, Paul Galdone, and Amy Ehrlich. Most renderings of the story include an evil stepmother and stepsister(s), a dead mother, a dead or ineffective father, some sort of gathering such as a ball or festival, mutual attraction with a person of high status, a lost article, and a search that ends with success.
Male Cinderellas do appear, and not just in parodies, such as Helen Ketteman's "Bubba the Cowboy Prince" and Sandi Takayama's "Sumorella" ... "Billy Beg" of Ireland is just one of many of these versions of the story.
Cinderella, despite her popularity, has developed a reputation as a simpering, whimpering girl who is helpless until the right magic comes along. But this is the Cinderella of the later twentieth century. The earlier Cinderella, in many of her original forms, was not a wishing-only kind of person. She was self-reliant, devoted to family and ancestors, and willing to make her own future.
- Preparation Instructions
- The Cinderella story can be found in many countries and in many cultures. Students will see dramatic evidence of that in this lesson; however, rather than concentrating on cultural differences between the stories, this lesson concentrates on identifying commonalities and differences in plot. Help students understand the universal appeal of the Cinderella story.
- The reading level of each of the stories suggested throughout this lesson is about the same, with a standard fairy tale vocabulary and perhaps—depending on the country of origin—a few unique words relating to that country (such as "Brahmin" in the Indian Cinderella). Check to see if the reading level is appropriate to your class.
- Some classes would benefit from hearing in advance the stories to be assigned in Activities 2, 3, and 4, below. Consider reading them aloud during your usual story time in the days before you begin this lesson. The central activity is analysis, so it's fine for students to hear the story ahead of time.
Activity 1. The Cinderella We Know and Love: Familiar Plot Elements
Begin by showing the class the image Cinderella Fitting the Slipper [www.lib.rochester.edu]. Ask students if they can identify the story from the picture. Most will know immediately. How is it that virtually everyone can identify that this illustration is from Cinderella? What's happening at this point in the plot of the story? (Define the term "plot" for students, if necessary.) Again, everyone probably knows.
What plot elements from the Cinderella tale with which they are familiar can students list? Brainstorm as a class and write down what students say. Do they recall where the plot elements they've listed come from? For them, perhaps the Disney animated feature or read-alouds from earlier grades.
Read aloud to the class the text-only Perrault version of the Cinderella tale. While you are there, check in your library for other variants used in this lesson. The Perrault version is the source of the most familiar Cinderella tale.
Which plot elements that the students mentioned were in this version? Which were not?
Using some of the input from the class, adapt the chart "Plot and Setting Elements in the Familiar Cinderella Story," on page 1 of the PDF for your use in the next activity.
Activity 2. What Makes a Cinderella Story? Part I
For this activity, students will read stories that experts have categorized as Cinderella variants. The goal is to help students see that a plot element can seem quite different yet accomplish the same purpose in the narrative. In the Mi'kmaq (Native American) Cinderella tale, below, the heroine's ability to see the mighty hunter replaces the familiar identity test of the slipper while accomplishing the goal of allowing the heroine to be recognized.
Using the Native American Cinderella story the Mi'kmaq Cinderella, model for the class the process students will later complete with other Cinderella stories. Before you share the story, remind students of the plot elements of the familiar Cinderella, listed in Activity 1 and now featured on the chart "Plot and Setting Elements in the Familiar Cinderella Story." Ask students to predict how plot or setting elements in the familiar Cinderella tale might change in a Native American (Eastern Woodlands) setting.
Read aloud the Mi'kmaq Cinderella (during your usual read-aloud time, if desired). Using your adapted version of the "Plot and Setting Elements in the Familiar Cinderella Story" chart, help students identify the plot and setting variations in the Mi'kmaq Cinderella. What essential elements of the plot (such as a test of identity) are accomplished, even if in a quite different way?
Activity 3. What Makes a Cinderella Story? Part II
Model the analysis process once more by presenting to the class another Cinderella variation, this time with student volunteers participating in Reader's Theater. The Baba Yaga (Russia, 3 pages, from Aleksandr Afanasyev) would be a good story to use for this purpose since it features dialogue prominently. Consider using your read-aloud time for this activity as well.
Assign roles—including one or more narrators—and lead a reading. Using the chart "Plot and Setting Elements in the Familiar Cinderella Story," help students identify the plot and setting variations in the The Baba Yaga Cinderella. What essential elements of the Cinderella plot are accomplished, even if in a quite different way?
Activity 4. Even More Cinderellas
Next, students should be ready to analyze Cinderella tales on their own in small groups. As you prepare to make assignments, let students know that some of these stories are closer to the original than others. Point out to students the different countries of origin for these variants.
Each group should use the chart "Plot and Setting Elements in the Familiar Cinderella Story" as an aid to finding comparative plot elements.
Once the analysis is complete, allow groups to perform their tales for the class—using Reader's Theater or some other technique—during your usual read-aloud time.
A Cinderella of Your Own
Now students are ready to create their own "culturally specific" Cinderella tales. While keeping in mind the essential plot elements, students should write a tale starting with a new setting, one with which they are very familiar. For example, a student might create a skateboarding Cinderella, a hip-hop Cinderella, a high-fashion Cinderella, a science-fiction Cinderella, and so on. Students should attend to the ways the plot must change along with the setting. Illustrations are encouraged, as they are a tradition with fairy tales!
This activity could be assigned as homework, with students writing their own Cinderella tales. The writing could start in class, with an expectation that the assignment would be completed within a week in a final draft form. Students should turn in a rough draft with their final version.