We are now looking at picture book versions of Cinderella. This week we look at a tale from Mexico entitled Adelita. It was written and illustrated by one of my favourite children's illustrators Tomie dePaola. You may know him because of his Caldecott honour book Strega Nona (Grandma Witch) or his Bill and Pete series about a crocodile and his best friend who is a toothbrush bird. My favourite book of all times by him is The Clown of God. He has written and illustrated many religious books including a beautiful one about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi but the Clown of God always makes me cry with its beauty. I used to read it to my class every year and we would get to a certain page (if you've read it, you know the one) and tears would be streaming down my face. My children would exclaim, "Why are you crying?" and then i would turn the page and we would all be crying--first from sadness and then from wonder.
Adelita is the tale of a young woman in Mexico whose mother dies in childbirth. She is raised with love by the nursemaid Esperanza who also looked after her father when he was a boy. Esperanza, while not magical, functions as the magical helper in this tale.
When her father remarries, her new stepmother and stepsisters are cordial to Adelita, but Esperanza declares them to be cold hearted. She is not wrong. When Adelita's father dies, the stepmother no longer has to pretend. She fires Esperanza and forces Adelita to be a servant.
An invitation arrives to a big fiesta which is a homecoming for the neighbour's son Javier. Adelita remembers Javier from her childhood as they used to play together, although it has been many years since they have seen each other. As you would expect, she is denied the right to go. Here is where Esperanza appears and enacts the role of magical helper. I liked that the kitchen illustration featured a few pumpkins prominently as a nod to the Perrault version where the pumpkin turns into a coach. But in this version there is no magic dress or transformed objects--Esperanza brings her the key to a trunk that contains a beautiful but plain white dress that had belonged to Adelita's mother which she dresses up with a red shawl embroidered with birds and flowers. Esperanza fixes Adelita's hair with ribbons making her look uncannily like Frida Kahlo and she sets off for the fiesta in a little wooden cart that Esperanza borrowed to get get her there.
It goes on as you would expect and dePaola adds in several winks and nods to the Perrault tale. When Javier is travelling around looking for his sweetheart, she cunningly hangs the red shawl out of the attic window as a sign that she is there. When he sees her in her home, he remembers their childhood friendship and they are soon married. Esperanza comes to live with them to care for their children.
This is beautifully illustrated and the story is peppered with Spanish.
Stay tuned next week for a tale from Korea.