Book Talk: Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt (Illustrator)

There’s a fairytale that’s considerably famous. You may have heard of it. It’s usually called Cinderella though it has different names in different countries. The brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, both folktale historians of considerable note, include slightly different versions of the story in their collections of folktales. The story, in case you are not aware of it, usually runs like so:

A girl, very pure and very beautiful, is the apple of her father’s eye after the mother dies during childbirth (or childhood, one or the other). The father, seeing that the girl needs a mother figure marries once again. The stepmother comes accessorized with two daughters, empty bank accounts (or the equivalent of that in medieval times) and a cruel attitude. The father is tragically killed by some accident or another and the stepmother finds herself saddled with not just the title of widow (once again) but an old house, old servants and oh, a stepdaughter she isn’t too fond of seeing that she’s so pure and beautiful she makes her own two daughters look like refuse from wherever refuse comes from. Anyway, so this girl is banished to the kitchen and because she is so intimate with soot, is renamed Cinderella. I’m assuming she has a real name but no one seems to care about it so we all call her Cinderella. Now Cinderella is not one to complain about the change in her circumstances and just accepts all injustices out of the goodness of her heart. She endures the stepmother, the stepsisters UNTIL the time comes for them to attend a ball in the prince’s honor where he’ll choose a wife, the future queen. Obviously the stepmom can’t have Cinderella show up her daughters so Cinderella’s not allowed to go. On the night of the ball Cinderella mopes and cries until a fairy godmother shows up and gives her the means (a dress, a coach and often POC servants) to accompany her to the ball where she steals the prince’s heart. She flees back home at midnight (her curfew) leaving just a glass shoe behind. The prince searches out his beloved by making girls all over try on the glass shoe until he is finally reunited with Cinderella. The stepmother and stepsisters are punished severely for their cruelty to Cinderella. Cinderella and the prince (who also doesn’t have a name) allegedly live happily ever after.

Whew. That’s the story of Cinderella.

Now, I won’t get into the problematic aspects of Cinderella here but let’s consider Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt here.

22875394

Hardcover, 40 pages
Expected publication: May 5th 2015 by Chronicle Books (first published April 28th 2015)
Source: Raincoast Books

I’ll focus more on the story than the technical bits but let me just say that the language used is fun, engaging and a pleasure to read out loud. Each page has a four verse stanza with an a, b, c, b rhyming scheme. The art is vivid, evocative and immersive. Reading this book was a pleasure.

Source: http://showandtell.meghunt.com/post/108005365719/a-special-new-year-surprise-my-lovely-editor-and
Source: http://showandtell.meghunt.com/post/108005365719/a-special-new-year-surprise-my-lovely-editor-and

Cinderella retellings are very common in any number of mediums. Video games, books, movies, plays, they all tackle the wondrous tale of the underdog winning the prince and gaining the wealth. It is human nature to gravitate towards stories like that because these stories give hope that our own lives could be a fairytale and undergo the same miraculous change.

Recently (or perhaps not so, research would be required before I say this with any authority), Cinderella retellings have been veering away from Cinderella being someone without agency who is helped out by people due to her good nature and purity to being someone who seizes agency and uses her own wits, passion and talents to achieve whatever it is she wants.

Interstellar Cinderella keeps the setup of the original Cinderella with two evil stepsisters and one evil stepmother though, thankfully, there is no mention of them being ugly. But Cinderella, instead of being a drudge, is a mechanic. Her passion is fixing things and building things, using her tools and her mind to keep herself busy and useful. When the invitations to the ball arrive, the stepmother and the step sisters leave for the ball but instead of the traditional chores that the stepmother leaves for Cinderella to accomplish, Interstellar Cinderella’s (I.C from now on) stepmom makes off with I.C’s toolbox and a broken ship that she cannot fix without the toolbox.

Source: http://showandtell.meghunt.com/post/108005365719/a-special-new-year-surprise-my-lovely-editor-and
Source: http://showandtell.meghunt.com/post/108005365719/a-special-new-year-surprise-my-lovely-editor-and

Underwood also keeps the fairy godmother but instead of making I.C magically able to go to the ball, the fairy godmother gives I.C brand new tools that enable her to fix her rocket so she can go to the ball. The prince is drawn as a POC (yes!) but I.C’s heart yearns not for him but the ship he is on! I.C uses her tools to fix the prince’s burning ship and then reverting to tradition has to flee because her ship can only fly till midnight. The prince is left with a socket wrench and he goes all over the galaxy inviting women to try fixing a ship. I won’t give the ending away but it just as amazing as the rest of the book.

This retelling focuses a lot of attention on young girls learning to achieve for themselves the things they want without waiting for someone to gift them these things. Underwood is careful to keep the traditional elements of the fairytale but infuse the fairytale with a new life and a new joie de vivre that is more suited to the young girls growing up in contemporary society. I like that the prince’s search for the girl depends not on a girl’s physical endowments (her foot size) but on her mind. It focuses attention on the importance of a girl’s mind over her physical looks.

Underwood also levels the playing field a bit, that is, when she has I.C save the prince’s burning ship, she reattributes some of the power the prince has to I.C who saved him. While the original Cinderella was desirable simply because of her looks, I.C actually has a skill that the prince needs: her mechanic skills. In an environment where space ships are a necessary part of life, someone who has the ability to fix and maintain them has a lot of power.

Interstellar Cinderella’s take on Cinderella is fresh, modern and empowering. Deborah Underwood, accompanied by Meg Hunt’s wonderful illustrations, takes a passive heroine and recasts her as someone who seizes agency even when the world refuses to give her any. I recommend this book to everyone.

  • I teach three year olds and often they ask me to tell them the story of Cinderella (although I’ve been telling them Cinderella’s an android, lol). Now this book. This book I have to have in my classroom to read aloud!

    • They’ll love it! Plus, reading this one out loud is SO MUCH FUN because the rhyming verses.

  • In primary school, I used to go around my library and pull out every single picture book version of Cinderella I could find to read. I can only imagine how a kid would feel if they found this gem of a world.

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