Dr. Coburn and the Asian Cinderella: Cultural Diversity in Fairy Tales

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Fats here.

Fractured fairy tales are part of the focus of our current bimonthly theme. During the holiday break, I borrowed several fairy tale picturebooks from the library. A big chunk of my library loot was comprised of different versions of Cinderella as re-imagined by various authors and illustrators. This post is the first of a few that I would be sharing with you.

Of all the classic tales, Cinderella is perhaps the most popular. There are so many versions of the European story that I decided to sort the books into their own themes. Today’s post features another picturebook written by Dr. Jewell Reinhart Coburn, Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella. In a 2013 post, Myra wrote a review on Dr. Coburn’s other work, Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella.

On the dust jacket of the book, it was noted that Dr. Jewell Reinhart Coburn wrote many books on folklore. She lived abroad and studied diverse cultures. Dr. Coburn also received a doctorate in Higher Education Administration, two honorary degrees, and literary awards.

Five years ago, I wrote about Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China retold by Ai-Ling Louie and illustrated by Ed Young. I was delighted to discover Dr. Coburn’s work and read another Asian version of Cinderella. What I like most about her version is the way culture is integrated into the story. As you will soon find out, Angkat does not follow the typical Cinderella plot, although similarities could be found across the stories. I always find it refreshing to read books from a cultural perspective.

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Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella

Retold by: Jewell Reinhart Coburn
Illustrated by: Eddie Flotte
Published by: Shen’s Books (1998)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library (Wooster branch).
Book photos by me.

“Angkat – child of ashes – was first found in an essay written by Adhemard Leclere, a French folklorist who lived in Cambodia in the late 1800s. With the help and support of Mr. Riem Men, a Cambodian educator, this tale of Cinderella is adapted for the first time into the English language. In this story Angkat upholds the traditional Khmer values of duty, loyalty, and perseverance which are also prevalent in Cinderella’s European versions.” – Author’s Note, Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella

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Angkat follows the basic plot of Cinderella. Father and daughter lived in a village. Father married a woman who had a daughter of her own. Sibling rivalry ensued and a plan was devised to determine who was daughter Number One and daughter Number Two. There was a case of the mysterious golden slipper, and a Prince summoned all the young maidens in the land to try the golden slipper.

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One of the major differences between Perrault’s Cinderella and Coburn’s Angkat is the length of the narrative. Angkat is definitely longer than the original tale. While the book may be divided into different sections for bedtime stories, Angkat is intended for older readers. Some people may find the story too long and deem certain parts to be unnecessary.

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Another difference can be seen in the heroine’s struggle. Both Cinderella and Angkat endured the cruelty of their stepmothers and stepsisters. (Angkat’s stepsister, Kantok, was a girl of great beauty but had no redeeming qualities. She was lazy.) However, Angkat had to conquer greater odds when her own mortality was at stake. (A shocking part of the story, if you ask me.)

I admire Angkat’s feisty personality. When her stepmother insisted that Kantok should be known as Number One daughter in the family, Angkat was quick to protest. With fierce determination, she said: “I am my father’s daughter, and I am entitled to be the Number One child!” Like Cinderella, Angkat was diligent and a hardworker. She deserved having an audience with the Spirit of Virtue and owning a pair of two dainty, golden slippers. (She certainly didn’t deserve the tragedy that happened to her.)

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Similar to China’s Yeh-Shen and the Hmong’s Jouanah, fish and rice were involved in the story of Angkat. Integrating Asian cultural practices into western folktales makes the stories more interesting. Of all the Asian versions of Cinderella, Angkat quickly became one of my favorites after reading it. I like Dr. Coburn’s narrative, and Eddie Flotte’s stunning watercolor illustrations make the story even more captivating.

2 Comments on Dr. Coburn and the Asian Cinderella: Cultural Diversity in Fairy Tales

  1. That sounds like a great book! 😀

    Like

    • It’s a unique version of Cinderella that has extra cool stuff to offer in addition to the plot of the original tale. Hope you get to read it, Erik! =)

      Like

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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