Diversity in Children’s Books Week: Yeh-Hsien, a Chinese Cinderella, retold by Dawn Casey

We all know the traditional Disney story of Cinderella. The poor girl who has lost her father and mother, treated appallingly by her stepmother and stepsisters, who ends falling in love with a prince. Cinderella, alongside other Disney princesses, is woven into the imaginations of little girls worldwide. The story of Cinderella is not unique to Disney, in fact, it has been retold in many cultures for hundreds of years. As part of Diversity in Children’s Books Week, we are reviewing a Chinese version of the Cinderella story, retold by Dawn Casey.

Front Cover

The Chinese version of Cinderella was first recorded in the middle of the ninth century by Tuan Ch’eng-Shih. In this version, Yeh-Hsein was a young girl living during the Chin or Han dynasties of China. Her father had two wives; Yeh-Hsein’s mother and stepmother. When Yeh-Hsein’s mother died, she was raised by her stepmother who resented her for being prettier and kinder than her own daughter. Yeh-Hsein’s only friend was a fish, whom she shared her food with every day until he became huge. The fish was a secret until the stepmother followed Yeh-Hsein and in an act of cruelty, killed the fish. What they didn’t know was that the fish was magical and would grant Yeh-Hsein any wish she wanted to. Yeh-Hsein wanted to go to the Spring Festival, where the people in the village would meet their future husbands and wives. She made a wish to be able to go and was dressed in the most beautiful clothes with shoes of gold. Whilst at the Festival, she sees her stepmother and stepsister, panics and runs home, losing one shoe. It was found by a man who gave it to the king, who says that he will marry the woman who fits the shoe.

Illustrations: The illustrations by Richard Holland are in an oriental style of art and are beautiful. They make a refreshing change from the usual illustrations in children’s books. Below is an example of one of the illustrations in the book, this is Yeh-Hsein’s silk robe and kingfisher feathers, on her way to the Spring Festival. I love this style of illustration and we think young children would find them fascinating.

Story: This story generally will have a sense of familiarity for younger children who will know the Disney version of Cinderella. It is a little bit more macabre with the stepmother and the fish but it doesn’t take away from the story on the whole. We wouldn’t shy away from reading the story to children as Disney still use and imply the process of death in their films, such as The Lion King, Snow White and Bambi, which mummy Beebop is still banned from watching as she cries too much! It really is a beautiful tale which can lead children into discovering more about Chinese culture and maybe reading more about other versions of Cinderella, so there is a tremendous amount of learning that can come from reading this version.

Beebop’s score: 4/5.

Look out for a new reading superstar and guest reviewer, Emily, who will be reviewing two books for us soon!

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