Books Fractured Fairytales Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Reading Themes

Book Talk Tuesday: Urban Poetry Meets Classic Fairy Tale in Frances Minters’s Cinder-Elly

Picture Book Challenge Update: 93 of 120

Cinder-Elly, written by Frances Minters and illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The “Cinderella streak” continues here at GatheringBooks as I present to you today’s contribution to Book Talk Tuesday, brought to you by Kelly Butcher at the Lemme Library. In Cinder-Elly, Frances Minters gives an urban/pop-rock version of Cinderella. Set in fast-paced New York City, Cinder-Elly offers a different flavor by presenting the classic story in a rhyming, urban fairy tale.

Once upon a time,
Or so they tell me,
There was a girl
Called Cinder-Elly.

Elly was good
And she was pretty.
She lived with her folks
In New York City.

Cinderella Gets an Upgrade. The edition I borrowed from the library was published in 1994 and, at the time, Frances Minters was living in New York City with her antiquarian bookseller husband. Given her NYC background, Frances Minters re-creates – or should I say ‘renovates’ – the classic story by adding bits and pieces of the city, brought to life by colorful illustrations of G. Brian Karas.

Busy streets of NYC
Yellow cabs in NYC
Park Slope apartments in NY
Sue and Nelly out to go to the basketball game
Yellow cab in place of elegant carriage

Written on the back jacketflap of the book, G. Brian Karas says,

“While working on this book, I spent a lot of time noticing all the different surfaces of New York City – I just loved all the layers. I also looked at the textured, urban collages of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and spent a lot of time watching MTV, particularly the rap videos, to capture the rhythm and movement of the story.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, died at the young age of 27

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s. He was featured in Maya Angelou’s Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, as beautifully reviewed by Myra for GatheringBooks’ celebration of Black History Month.

In Frances Minters’s Cinder-Elly, castles and green fields were replaced by high-rise buildings and busy streets. Cinder-Elly’s living situation had also greatly improved. While bombarded with too much glass-window-cleaning, our young heroine no longer sits among the cinders and mopes.

Of course, modernization would not be complete without the introduction of electronics in the story.

When school let out
They’d watch TV.
They’d ask Cinder-Elly
To serve iced tea.

Or else they’d play
A video game.
But they never asked Elly
To do the same.

Free tickets to a basketball game took the place of an invitation to the Royal Ball. Modern elements could also be found here, such as pizza, blow-drying, and, of course, the basketball game itself.

Unlikely Characters. Like Ellen Jackson’s Cinder Edna, one of the things I liked about Cinder-Elly is character portrayal. Instead of Disney’s version of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned heroine, Cinder-Elly is a tan beauty with short, shaggy, brunette hair.

Disney's classic Cinderella
G. Brian Karas's modern Cinder-Elly

Frances Minters also creates a younger Cinderella and gives more emphasis on sibling rivalry and the pains of being the youngest child in the family. By doing so, Cinder-Elly becomes more relatable to the younger readers.

Like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella in Ella Enchanted, as recently reviewed by Iphigene, Cinder-Elly is not a pushover. Frances Minters says of her picture book debut, I wanted to create a Cinderella who wasn’t a wimp.”

“Sue, El, and Nelly,
We picked your name.
You’ve won free tickets
To a basketball game.”

“We accept with pleasure,”
Said Sue and Nelly.
“And I do, too,”
Said Cinder-Elly.

Her sisters just looked
At her and smiled.
And then they said,
“You can’t go, child.”

“But I’m invited,
It says so there.”
“You’re too young, Elly,
And you’ve nothing to wear.”

“I’ll shop,” said Elly.
“But you’ve no money.”
Elly’s mother agreed.
“They’re so right, honey.”

“There’s no money for three
Only money for two.
Let your sisters go, Elly,
They’re older than you.”

So Elly’s big sisters
Went right out shopping
And Elly stayed home
And did the mopping.

No moping for little El, only mopping. While they retained their wickedness, El’s sisters were not as ugly as were depicted in the classic fairy tale. Sue and Nelly both have shoulder-length hair; one is blonde, and the other is brunette. Wicked though they may be, Sue and Nelly also have rosy cheeks.

Sue and Nelly, which one is which I could not tell
Godma, Cinder-Elly's godmother

The fairy godmother was replaced by plain Godma, a plump Asian-looking woman who carries around a floral suitcase and a wooden cane in place of a wand. And what of El’s dilemma with the basketball game? As written on the front flap of the book,

Cinder-Elly's ride

“Times have changed since Cinderella first lost her slipper. When today’s girl wants to find her Prince Charming, she may need the help of a trash can, a copy machine, or even a glass sneaker.”

Speaking of changing times, another thing that makes Cinder-Elly more realistic is the curfew time set by Godma. Because El was considerably younger than classic Cinderella, and it was merely a basketball game compared to a Royal Ball, curfew was changed to ten o’clock instead of midnight. It reminded me of the same curfew time set by my mom when I was younger, or the time I would allow myself to be out with friends until my mom would pick me up from work.

Afterthoughts. As the world continues to evolve, so do the components that make up literature. In my humble opinion, one of the ways that a writer can work on his/her ‘flexibility’ is to incorporate any elements that are relevant to the current setting/time period to a story that readers are familiar with. Frances Minters and G. Brian Karas successfully transformed a classic fairy tale to a modern story without ruining the element of surprise.

10 comments on “Book Talk Tuesday: Urban Poetry Meets Classic Fairy Tale in Frances Minters’s Cinder-Elly

  1. Anne Stockwell

    Hi Fats! Great review of a book I love. It was fun seeing the Park Slope picture too because it’s just a few blocks from where I used to live! 😉


    • Hi Anne!! =)

      Sooo nice of you to visit the website. I hope you were able to read our updates for our 1:4:1000 Book Drive for our One-Year Anniversary last July. You can view the posts from the 1:4:1000 Book Drive link to the right.

      I loved this book, too!! So fun to read aloud, and the illustrations are colorful and wonderful to look at. I just randomly chose the picture of Park Slope, since most of the ones I found on Google were tiny compared to this one. So you lived in NY?


  2. Oh wow, this reminds me that I have a fractured version of Sleeping Beauty called “Sleepless Beauty” that has this kind of modern/urban/rap vibe to it – but, alas, I should now begin with Roald Dahl hahahaha. We are indeed loving this fractured fairy tale theme. 😉


    • That would be nice!! Maybe you can feature it on Thursday!! Haha. Yes, we do love this fractured fairy tale theme. As for Dahl, I have already separated it from my shelf, but not yet ready to breeze through his books. I’m two-thirds done with Ruby Red, halfway through A Long Way Gone, and barely started A Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland and The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (which I’m still wondering whether or not to include it this month, since it has another war theme to it).

      We can do this!!! =)


      • Haha, nice try. But Thursday is all yours. Hahaha. Update me on which Dahl books you’d choose to feature/review so we won’t have a duplication, but then again, I’m sure it’d be a pleasant (with a touch of the dark and sordid) read.


      • Haha!! Darn. I thought I could get away with it. =P I’m still contemplating whether I should push through with Sleeping Bobby or Kate and the Beanstalk – both are by Mary Pope Osborne. I will let you know. I don’t have a copy of the Revolting Rhymes so you might want to take that, but let’s wait for Iphigene. =)


  3. Pingback: Carnival of Children’s Literature and Round-up for August |

  4. Pingback: List of Fractured Fairy Tales – A Gathering Books Recommendation |

  5. hey, nice poems


  6. Pingback: The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece – Gathering Books

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