Today is “Cinderella Day” in our house, a culmination of a month-long study project of Cinderella stories around the world. During the month of February, we read six different versions of the familiar Cinderella story from six regions: Egypt, Korea, Persia (Iran), Mexico, New Mexico (the Zuni legend of the Turkey Girl), and France (the version with which we’re most familiar). There are rich Cinderella stories from Germany, India, Appalachia, and Russia, too, (and probably many others), but these six represented what I could find in our public library.

We read each story several times, talking about the main features each time and starting to think about the similarities and differences among them. Katie’s favorite is the story of Adelita, the Cenicienta of Mexico. We found a version of it by Tomie de Paola, a favorite author of ours, and it was written in part Spanish and part English—a perfect opportunity to learn some new words.

The Turkey Girl legend from the Zuni tribe fascinated me. This story was the only version we read that did not end happily—because the main character broke her promise to return home on time. She returned to a poor girl in rags, orphaned and alone, because she took her friendship with the magical turkeys for granted. A good lesson.

To start the day, Katie put on her Cinderella dress. I had a chart drawn out and ready to go, and after breakfast and an errand, we got to work.

Holding the story of Adelita, her favorite version.

I printed out pictures to glue on our chart, a fun way for Katie to interact with the different elements of each story.

Pre-schoolers LOVE to glue!!

Our chart. There were eight columns: 1. name of the girl, 2. country of origin, 3. character traits, 4. helpers, 5. magic objects, 6. villains, 7. name of prince, and 8. picture of the girl

This project was so much fun because it spanned so much knowledge. We glued on maps, having talked about the country of origin in conjunction with our globe several times, and we got to talk about the role of the helpers in the journey. Some of the helpers were people (The Fairy Godmother from France) and some were animals. We got to talk about how Adelita’s helper, her nurse Esperanza, has a name that means “hope” in English. I asked Katie why this was a good name for Adelita’s helper, and she responded with thoughts about how helpers can give hope to the people they are helping. We also looked for differences in the magic objects: not all Cinderella stories have magic shoes, though many of them did.

The last piece of the chart we went back to fill in were the “character traits.” This was probably the hardest work Katie did, and the piece of the chart involving the highest order thinking skill. It was challenging for her to come up with new descriptions for each girl, and in truth, many of the girls have similar traits from culture to culture: “nice,” “loving,” “obedient,” etc. So it was okay that some of the descriptions are the same. It is easier to see the similarities in this case, than it is to see the nuanced differences. I knew it would be a bit of a push, but I figure the more practice with have with character analysis at an early age, the easier it will be later on in her education. The great part about Cinderella is that we are able to talk about how she is rewarded in life for all of her good traits.

My Cinderella holds her Cinderella chart!

This project was FUN! We actually worked on it for a long time…and I was proud of Katie for sustaining her attention on it. Of course right now, she is being rewarded with being able to watch Disney’s Cinderella while I type this out and Eric sleeps.

The awesome thing is that there seem to be several versions of other fairy tales that would lend themselves to a similar project. It gives a little more depth to the whole “princess world” we like to have fun with in our house. Disney comes under fire quite a bit these days (although I will always be a diehard Disney fan myself), yet those fairy tales are a way “into-through-beyond” (to use teacher speak) more complicated issues of character, protagonist/antagonist, culture, geography, etc.

Cinderella Day 2011! Woo hoo! Much joy with this one… As a teacher, too, it is rewarding to cap off a month-long project and to have seen it through to fruition, and to see that it worked, that Katie “got” what we were going for. Yay!