Retellings of the Cinderella story abound, but if you thought it was impossible to find a fresh adaptation, you're in for a delightful surprise. Famed British children's author and illustrator Shirley Hughes has marshaled her considerable talents to create a charming and original Cinderella tale in her new picture book, Ella's Big Chance. Originally published in Great Britain, the book has already won the 2004 Kate Greenaway Medal for distinguished illustration in a children's book and is now being released in this country, where it's certain to become a favorite. The book, in fact, feels decidedly American, capturing all the style and flavor of the jazz age. Ella works with her father, Mr. Cinders, in his little dress shop, where she coaxes silks, woolens and satins into coats and dresses for their rich clientele.
With her sturdy build and short red curls, Ella is decidedly different from the traditional "Disneyesque" heroine and from the two fashionable stepsisters who soon join the family. Inevitably, while Ruby and Pearl loll around and model dresses for customers, Ella must work harder than ever, with only an old gray cat and her friend Buttons for consolation. And when the invitation to attend a grand ball in honor of the Duke of Arc arrives, Ella is, of course, left out. Ella's fairy godmother, a stylish lady with a purple umbrella, comes to the rescue, transforming Ella into a beauty in a silver gown and tiny silk hat. In the ball scenes, where Ella captures the heart of the Duke, you can almost hear the music and the light feet of the dancers. These scenes, notes Hughes, were inspired by the dance sequences in old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies; the dresses have their origins in the French designers of the 1920s, including Doucet, Poiret and Patou.
While these details may be of little interest to young readers, they are sure to be captivated by what happens when Ella returns home, leaving one glass slipper behind. Ella's choice, and her future, reminds us once again that laughter and fun are not only the province of princesses.
Deborah Hopkinson's newest book, Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, follows the life of a young garment worker in New York City in 1909.