Tag Archives: children’s literature

Seven Books to Read to Get Your Cinderella Fix

14 Oct

Cinderella is a recurring character in fairy tales. The 19th century Grimm Brothers story was the earliest popular western version, which consisted of cutting off the stepsister’s heels and toes. The present day Cinderella is dated back to 1950s Disney version of a damsel in distress. Disney neglected to depict Cinderella’s strength of not letting the cruelty of others affect her spirit. Growing up as a bookworm, I had to feed my need for a Cinderella story through books. Plus, I know deep down inside, you are just aching for some Cinderella in your life. Why not through books? The character of Cinderella has evolved through many published works of fiction mainly in Children’s and Young Adult books. Don’t sneer at the fact that children’s literature is part of this list. Remember it is usually in the pages of children’s literature that carries heavier subjects that can tug at the heart strings. J.K. Rowling can attest to this.

In the books selected, like any character, Cinderella had to go through her trials, which usually consisted of abusive relatives. That’s a given. However, she has grown stronger and fiercer in texts. Even Beyonce would bow at her efforts to find herself and her path. By the way, her path isn’t always the prince. There are seven books to keep in mind when you are looking for the perfect Cinderella themed book (you won’t be disappointed).

FICTION

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

a-little-princess

The book A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is the story of young Sarah Crewe, an enchantingly sweet bookworm. She grows up in India with her father Captain Crewe, a captain in the British army. Mrs. Crewe died when Sarah was young, which created an unrelenting bond between father and daughter. When World War I threatened, Captain Crewe sent Sarah to a boarding school in London. There she meets Miss Minchin, a strict homely woman, who saw Sarah more as a pay day than a person. Even though she felt uninvited, Sarah made friends. On her 11th birthday, she’s given the news that her father had died in action. Miss Minchin seized this opportunity to belittle Sarah in every way possible by making her the maid and selling her things. Miss Minchin forced Sarah to live in the attic next door to another young maid named Becky, whom she befriended. Stricken with grief and abused daily, Sarah vowed to keep her promise to her father that she was a princess.  Although she is starved and sent into the snow in rags, she still finds the strength to give bread to a starving family and a flower to a father mourning his dead son. The only question is if this princess gets saved or saves herself and her friend. This book made me cry and smile. Recommended for ages 10+.

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

inheritance

Set in Victorian times, the book is about Edith Adelon, young maiden born of poverty and humble birth. She was ‘discovered’ as a child by the Hamilton family and taken in to live on an English manor under the care of Lady Hamilton. Lady Hamilton was a regal woman that withholds her affection toward Edith. Unlike her children, who come to view her as a sister. Everyone seems to love her except for Cousin Ida. Ida is an older unmarried lady that detests Edith’s gentle spirit. Edith receives a letter that can change the dynamics of the household. Although this information can change Edith’s fate for the better, she reasons that it would be in everyone’s best interest that she doesn’t. When jewelry goes amiss from Lady Hamilton’s room, Cousin Ida frames Edith. Since it is a friend that did it, she doesn’t fight for her innocence. At the break of being disowned, her friend comes out as the wrongdoer and reveals Edith’s startling secret. This was an elegantly written book. Recommended for ages 14+.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

ella-enchanted

On the day of Ella’s birth, her mother, Lady Eleanor and the house cook, Mandy, were very happy until the cocky fairy, Lucinda, stopped by to give Ella a gift. Instead it was a curse, the gift of obedience. Her mother and Mandy were horrified but could not undo the spell. It was dangerous. If someone commanded Ella to hop on one foot until sundown or cut off her head, she had no choice but to obey. One day her mother becomes ill and commands Ella not to tell anyone of her curse on her deathbed. At the funeral, her father was as comforting as a stone. So, she goes off to mourn alone and ends up bumping into the prince, whom she befriends. Like any loving father, he finds it best to send her off to finishing school with two mean girls, Hattie and Olive. Hattie finds out Ella’s secret and takes advantage of her in the worst ways. Ella gets word where Lucinda was and runs away to find her. She instead meets talking birds, tames man-eating ogres, and meets the prince again! Through the prince, she finds her father penniless from a bad business deal. Coincidentally, he marries Dame Olga, Hattie and Olive’s mother, for her money. Things go downhill for Ella from there. Will she get to follow her heart or will her stepmother make that impossible? Levine has never disappointed me in taking me to a land of fantasy. Totally enjoyable for all ages. Recommended for ages 7+.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (lunar chronicles)

cinder

Linh Cinder is a teenage half cyborg girl (yes, cyborg!) in a plague infested world. She was believed to have survived an accident when she was young that left her orphaned and in the care of her stepmother and stepsisters. The stepmother, Adri, is not afraid to show her dislike for Cinder by being cruel and forcing her to be the breadwinner of the family. To Adri’s dismay, it actually comes to Cinders benefit making her become the most successful mechanic in town. Through her success, she meets Prince Kai, the emperor’s son. He flirts with her. Nope, she is not into it or him for that matter. Not long after, her stepsister gets infected with the plague. Adri sends Cinder into a cyborg draft program into the care of Dr. Erland. Through the program she learns that she is not only immune to the plague but part lunar, a race of moon people. The moon queen, Lavena wants to use Cinder as symbol of peace between earth and moon by forcing her to marry Prince Kai, the last man on earth she’d ever marry. Instead, Lavena has a malicious plan behind the marriage. What she does next is a test of a lifetime to save earth or her heart? Recommended for ages 12+.

Adaline Falling Star by Mary Pope Osborne

adaline-falling-star

As a history buff, I have to include this historical fiction. Mary Pope Osborne tells a story of a mixed race girl in the 1840s named Adaline Carson. She grew up a happy child with her mother in the Arapaho tribe. When an illness takes her mother’s life, her father takes her to stay with his relatives in St. Louis to go on an expedition to the west. Before he leaves, he promises to return for her. She accepts her circumstances with resilient silence toward her relatives. In part, they think she is a mute savage not worthy enough to stay in their house. Her relatives make it more than obvious that they are tolerate her presence. Time goes by and her father doesn’t arrive with his partners from the trip, so she assumes he has abandoned her. At the threat of being sent to an asylum, she decides to run away. While lost, she befriends a dog that cares for her when she is sick and saves her life several times. Is it her mother’s spirit guiding her through the dog? Will the dog guide her to her father?  Recommended ages 10+.

NONFICTION

Chinese Cinderella – Abridged Young Adult version, ages 14+

chinese-cinderella

Falling Leaves – Original version, ages 18+

falling-leaves

There are two versions of Adeline Yen Mah’s autobiography of her childhood. Although Adeline is now an accomplished author, physician, and loving mother of two, she had a trying childhood mainly at the hands of her stepmother. Soon after she was born, her mother died of an illness. This caused her family to think of Adaline as bad luck. In Chinese tradition, luck is seen as very valuable. The one that does not give into this thought is her mother’s sister, Aunt Baba. She raised her with the love and care that the rest of her family could not. Aunt Baba had to leave after Adeline’s father remarried.  The wife was a beautiful Eurasian woman named Jean, who the children thereafter referred to as Niang, Chinese term for mother. While Niang treated the children she had with her husband with tender love and care, she made her stepchildren use the servant’s entrance, hand-me-downs, and were not allowed in the living room. Niang was merciless toward her stepchildren, but especially to little Adeline. Adeline tried to win her love by getting top grades in school and being elected class president only to be sent away to boarding school. Her aunt never stopped showing her pride for her niece, affectionately calling Adeline her Chinese Cinderella. Adeline’s father did not recognize her talent until she was an accomplished teenager, he vowed to send her to Oxford University.

-Written by Elbie Love, Young Adult Library Assistant

Seventy Years from Evil

20 Apr

April 15/16 is Yom H’Shoah, the day on which Jews and other victims of the Nazis remember the horrors of the Holocaust.  Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but an additional five to six million people went to their deaths for being gay, political enemies of the Nazis, disabled, Romany, or simply for trying to help their neighbors survive the war by hiding or helping them.  There have been other horrific genocides since then, but the Nazis set the template for the horrors of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

This year, however, is even more important because 70 years ago, on April 15, the most notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated.  There will be many commemorations of the event in large part because the remaining survivors will probably not be here for the 75th or 80th ceremonies.

The hardest question many parents and educators ask is when is the right time to start teaching about the Holocaust? The answer will be different for each child.  However, it is safe to say that children under the age of six should be shielded from the information. Some picture books that are not too detailed in the atrocities and focus mostly on the aftermath of the liberation of the camps, may be appropriate at age 8.  Mostly, however, you will want to look at ages 10 to 13 as the earliest age to introduce this subject to your child.

The list of books on the Holocaust, including first person accounts from survivors, is very long.  I could not possibly do a comprehensive list on this blog.  However, for guidance in teaching the Holocaust, check out the following websites:

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial MuseumAttached to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this is the most comprehensive resource for information on the Holocaust.  If you can visit with your older children, it is an unforgettable experience.  You can also access their learning resources at www.ushmm.org/learn.

The National Museum of American Jewish History:  Located in Philadelphia, PA on Independence Mall, this is another arm of the Smithsonian.  You can find out about their resources, including an internet classroom program, at http://www.nmajh.org/Education/ or education@nmajh.org.

The USC Shoah FoundationThis is the organization that was founded by Steven Spielberg after he made Schindler’s List.  Its purpose is to record the testimonies of survivors of the period so that the memories of the victims will be perpetuated.

The Museum of Tolerance: Not only does this resource document the events of the Holocaust, it also works to prevent future events of hatred and even bullying.

This is a partial list of easily available (through your BCCLS.org library) books and films that are appropriate for younger audiences, and adults as well:

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.

anne-frank-diary-of-a-young-girl

I include this because Anne is arguably the most well-known victim of the Nazis.  Her diary, however, ends with her captivity. In addition to the book, which I would suggest for ages 11 and up especially because of the much discussed conflicts between Anne and her mother, there have been several films and plays made based on the diary.  The most well-known film was made in 1959 and directed by George Stevens.  It is probably the most palatable for younger audiences because most of the serious conflict was removed and the love story between Anne and Peter Van Daam, is sweetly innocuous.  It also ends with a hopeful scene of birds wheeling in the Amsterdam sky.  Subsequently there was another American TV version made with Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie fame playing Anne.  Frankly, this is an inferior version.  The BBC have done at least two productions of the story, the most authentic and effective being  Anne Frank: The Whole Story, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Otto Frank.  It is very well done.  It is also very graphic because it extends the story to time that Anne and her sister, Margot, spent in Bergen-Belsen before dying of typhus just weeks before the end of the war.  There is some mild nudity, but it is the hopelessness of Anne, at this point, that would be very hard for a child to grasp.  I would show this film to teens, ages 16 and up.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen.

devils-arithmetic

This was an award-winning book, several decades ago.  In the book, Hannah, a reluctant participant in Jewish ritual attends her family’s Passover seder where she hears oft-repeated stories of the Holocaust victim whose name she carries.  In events similar to the Wizard of Oz, Hannah becomes unconscious and awakes in a Polish village where she befriends her namesake and then is taken to a concentration camp.  Things do not go well for Hannah as she hears the doors of the gas chamber close behind her before she awakens, back home in time for D’ayenu.  There was a TV movie made of this book which suffered from some misguided casting, with Kirsten Dunst playing Hannah. However, the late Brittany Murphy was actually quite good as the Polish girl from the past.

The Extra, by Kathryn Lasky.

the-extra

This is an important book for teens primarily because it deals with the fate of the Romany (Gypsy) victims of the Holocaust.  A group of Romany inmates including Lilo, a teenage girl, are recruited to help Leni Riefenstahl make movies.  Riefenstahl was notoriously Hitler’s favorite movie maker and as the Romany group discovers, she was both a genius and a monster.  Adults might pursue the subject by reading Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, by Steven Bach.

One Candle, by Eve Bunting.

one-candle

This is the elusive picture book for younger children, grades 3 to 6.  In this story, a family shares a much-told tale of how a relative celebrated Chanukah in the camps with a piece of salvaged candle that had to last for eight nights.

Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story, by Marci Stillman.

nine-spoons

Similar to One Candle, this is the story of nine dedicated women who gather spoons, one for each night, so that they can have a makeshift menorah in the camps. Grades 3 to 6.

The Harmonica, by Tony Johnston.

harmonica

Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of a young boy who was given a harmonica by his father.  When he is imprisoned in the camps, the music he makes is his solace.  It also attracts the attention of a Nazi officer who commands him to play for him.  That music saved many prisoners is a fact.  This story is recommended for grades 3 to 6.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne.

boy-in-the-striped-pajamas

Bruno’s father receives a promotion that moves the whole family to the countryside.  Bruno is particularly unhappy to leave his friends and home behind.  He doesn’t understand that his father’s reassignment has made him the commandant of a concentration camp.  Bruno goes exploring and makes a new friend on the other side of a barbed wire fence.  The two boys, the prisoner and the commandant’s son, meet frequently and, one day, decide to try a trick of changing places.  It does not end well for Bruno.  This book is frequently referred to as “a fable.”  For me the problem comes in the intended age of the readers, perhaps 11 and up, and the age of the protagonist who is much younger.   There was a well-received movie based on the book if you wish to introduce it in a different media.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44.

i-never-saw-another-butterfly

Image via Amazon

There are several books that deal with the dichotomy that was Terezin (or Theresienstadt).  Built on the site of an old Czech fortress, this camp was designed for show, so that visiting dignitaries and the Red Cross would see a lovely village populated by happy Jews.  The camp fronted something far more sinister.  However, while children were interned there, they were able to take classes in art, music and put on performances.  This book is a collection of some of the work the children produced.

Brundibar, by Tony Kushner with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

brundibar

This is the beautifully drawn fable of a Czech village.  Aninka [in English Annette] and Pepíček (Little Joe) are a fatherless sister and brother. Their mother is ill, and the doctor tells them she needs milk to recover. But they have no money. They decide to sing in the marketplace to raise the needed money. But the evil organ grinder Brundibár [who represents Hitler] chases them away. However, with the help of a fearless sparrow, keen cat, and wise dog, and the children of the town, they are able to chase Brundibár away, and sing in the market square.  This opera was actually performed in Theresienstadt to the delight of the apparently clueless SS soldiers.

Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin, by Susan Goldman Rubin.

fireflies-in-the-dark

This book covers the years in which the Czech artist, Dicker-Brandeis, was able to help the children of the camp produce art, poems, and stories.  Examples are inculded.

Auschwitz Explained to My Child, by Annette Wieviarka.

auschwitz-explained-to-my-child

As her child turns thirteen, the author, the child of Holocaust victims, decides to explain to her daughter the process of historical events that led from Hitler’s rise to power, through the discriminatory acts perpetrated on the Jews, to the incarceration and murder of Jews in the concentration camps.

Let the Celebrations Begin!, by Margaret Wild.

let-the-celebrations-begin

This is an anniversary edition of the original in which a small boy, imprisoned in the camps, enlists women in the barracks where he lives to make toys for other children who will be celebrating the day of their liberation.

The Flag with Fifty-Six Stars, by Susan Goldman Rubin.

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With their liberators on their way, the residents of one concentration camp decide to make a flag to honor the Americans who will save them.  Based on a true story, the determination of the men to produce a flag from rags is awe-inspiring.  Grades 3 to 6.

On this seventieth anniversary, I quote Yehuda Bauer who said, ““Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”   Books and movies can train up a new generation that will not be onlookers or perpetrators, but will help to build a better society for all.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

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